The leaves are almost gone. They were stunning this year, but just as they reached their carnival peak, I went to the desert and when I returned the wind had blown most of them into rust colored piles on the ground and now I press what is left of the blazing color, lifted against the sky's cheek just last week, under my boots with a crunch. Another year of life, pressed under heel, compost for next year’s flowers. Beauty dulled, wasted, faded to veins and dust.
The world in which I find myself does not allow for the sad, the broken, the used up. The cold, stark world of decaying leaves and bone cleansing winds drives us in, not inside ourselves where we might notice our own winter coming, but into our houses filled with artificial warmth and Christmas colors. I will go back out when the world hides its nakedness under a new coat of leaves, when it once again covers itself with the chaos of green buds and bright flowers.
I might venture out when the earth is bundled under a blanket of snow. Anything to cover the sad, structural features of the landscape stripped naked. But this year, for some reason the warmth seems artificial and small. The cold and decay seep under the door and put out their long misty fingers in search of something. I seal the doors and windows. The color is gone…time for hibernation. I come from a background which does not tolerate despair. If the lights of Christmas and Easter are not enough to illuminate the darkness, whose fault can it be but mine? Signs of decomposition are ignored and hidden. When the winter comes we go inside to pretend the earth is not mourning around us. We ignore the command to mourn with those that mourn, choosing to pretend that all is well. The darkness of the soul and mind are papered over with a false sense of faith, a list of magical incantations meant to keep the darkness at bay. The deeper faith that mourns is rejected. The lamentations of winter cannot be voiced.
It’s possible that if I write in letters small enough and slanted enough that I will feel comfortable letting the words of winter and mourning slip softly, sneakingly, out of my head and onto the paper…quiet, quiet little words falling onto the paper with a whisper from the rough end of my old and spitting pen. Are words of winter, better left unsaid? The thoughts they represent are as veined and old as the leaves which have inspired them. How did I skip the bold stage of autumn where the leaves die fiercely in brilliant pools of golden yellow light, or in a fury of blazing red fire, clinging urgently to the trees in the face of the winter? I have come back to a time when winter is already ascendant. From carnival to funeral in the space of a week.
The young can only give a vague and half-hearted assent to the idea that age is like autumn and autumn is like age. The autumn clings to the fertility of the earlier year, if only by creating a colorful tribute as cheerful as funeral flowers. But I am beginning to understand it. The time comes when even the healthy person must understand that time is not infinite; possibilities begin to cancel each other out. The boundaries of the trap become visible. There is one way out, only a limited time for defiance and brilliance. The winter comes when all of the choices and possibilities and chaos of the earlier year harden into reality. The cloak is snatched away, the ornamentation is removed. The truth of winter is unsoftened, drab and gray, the skeleton underneath.
This year the winter is coming apace. Sometimes it waits...it lingers on the outskirts of autumn politely and even lets summer have a moment or two to play again. This year, winter seems insistent, pressing. Perhaps this is the year, I go into the winter, to see what it wants to say, to defy it like the blazing leaves. The bare branches against the gray sky, wind that cleans off the last of the detritus, brown sleeping grass.
have more and more moments when I have a mad desire to feel the wind in my face or the snow on my cheeks. I want to feel the dead ground, brown and hard, under my feet. I want to see the structure…the underneath. I want to see what is left when everything dies. I want to feel my bones ache with the cold in the dark night filled with the tiny glittering icy pinpricks of stars and then be drawn into the poor yellow lamplight of my house or the still defiant, but small hot red fire in the stove. I want the cup of tea to warm me, but first I will have to be cold.
The tulips, and the lilacs need the cold too, I remember. Although I don’t quite believe in it in the dead of winter, maybe there will be spring somewhere in the distance. Somewhere past the winter. If I let the winter teach me something, maybe I will understand the chicks, the flowers, the resurrection of seeds. Maybe if I feel the winter this time, if I let it cut through me and clean my bones and watch it eat the leaves and grass I will be able to feel the subtle signs of its subjugation again in the spring. Perhaps I will understand the warmth and refuse to take it for granted.
Mourn with those that mourn. That is the commandment.