Originally published on October 16, 2014
I love Autumn.
Everything about it is enticing: the brightly colored leaves, the crisp and cool air, the beautiful fall flowers that bloom in my garden. I enjoy wearing a comfy sweater while hiking at the park and I'll often pull on a pair of handwarmers to hang around on the sun porch as the days I'll be able to enjoy it rapidly dwindle. This is the time of year I bake cookies and apple dumplings and quick breads of all kinds. My cats cuddle more and rekindle their friendships as they stroll around the house looking for a warm sunbeam.
Yes, there's much to revel in this time of year, but this time around, I find myself a bit melancholy. Like many Midwesterners I know, I'm experiencing a bit of PTSD related to last winter's howling winds, sub-zero temperatures, and a record-breaking eighty-five inches of snow. Yes, I love autumn, but this year...for the first time in my life...I'm not looking forward to what will follow.
This past spring, it took a long time before I put my snow boots and mittens and shovel away, before I knew for certain it was safe to really believe warmer weather was here to stay. For weeks I worked in my garden, remembering daily the endless hours of shoveling, the kindness of neighbors who helped me dig the ice and drifts from my downspouts, and the horrifying nights I sat up worrying about my furnace when the temperatures dipped to -17 degrees.
Finally, around Flag Day, I began to enjoy what has been a lovely, if not cooler-than-normal summer. But I'll take that. It's been a joy to create a darling fairy garden near my front porch. To sit in the back yard and swing to my heart's content while I read books and research a new novel. To ride my bike here, there, and everywhere around town. But now, it doesn't seem like it was nearly long enough, and I long to stave off what's coming next, if only for another month or so.
When I was in eighth grade, my Language Arts teacher introduced me to the Iliad and the Odyssey, two books that opened my eyes to the cycles of life, death, war, peace, and everything in-between. Mrs. Peterson graciously spent many a lunch hour in her classroom with me, eagerly answering my questions about the plot, the plethora of gods and goddesses and their roles and lessons in our modern life.
My favorite was the story of Persephone, the goddess often called "Kore" in her youth, who was stolen by Hades one afternoon as she frolicked in the flowers while her mother, Demeter, stood by helpless to save her. Hades took Persephone as his intended wife to his land in the Underworld and Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, left her responsibilities to the earth behind while she frantically searched for her daughter. Preoccupied with her grief, Demeter left the land to desiccate and die.
In the meantime, although Persephone was horrified to be separated from her mother, she eventually grew accustomed to her marriage and to the Underworld, finding that she was a benevolent greeter of those who entered death and darkness at the end of their lives. Eventually her father sent a messenger to Hades and demanded the release of Persephone, and Hades agreed, but with a price to be paid. Before setting his wife free, he gave her some pomegranate seeds to eat which magically bound Persephone to the Underworld for a portion of the year. So Persephone returned to her mother who in turn rejoiced and the earth awakened and flourished. Then six months later, when Demeter had to relinquish her daughter to fate, the harvest withered and winter came once again.
Persephone's story represents the cycle of birth and death and the ability to embrace and celebrate them both. Each year, I'm reminded of the mystery of the little deaths in my own garden -- the wilting leaves, the yellowing stalks, the energy of the plants returning to the earth, to the underworld where their roots remain steadfast and strong.
And I know that some of the deepest transformations, the most powerful growth comes from what lies beneath the surface...beyond what our eyes can see or our hands can measure.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend and neighbor gave me an exquisite clay flower pot in the shape of a Greek woman's head. She's a delicate reminder of Persephone, who, in the summer will hang on my house near the side door I use the most, and in the winter will rest on a shelf in my basement near the treadmill where I will run to keep warm during the long, dark winter months.
Seeing her calmly waiting for spring will remind me that all things will change eventually. The snow, the ice, the bitter winds. My fear of death in any sense of the word. The loneliness that can creep in when I struggle with cabin fever.
In the end, all things must pass.
In the midst of winter, each day will be what it is meant to be, just as each day in the springtime and summer is destined for its own joy and beauty. I can embrace both life and death, knowing that as the seasons change and bring new growth, so too does my own quiet life in the Heartland.