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Fundamentals

A new season lends new perspective

Native American poet Joy Harjo talks about languages that are not made of sound, but we hear and feel them anyway. The eagle who flies over the river, she says, makes no sound but we hear him and feel him. He “sweeps our hearts clean with sacred wings.”

In this land of expansive sky, we can open our hearts and minds to unexpected messages. Some of the fundamentals are silent, like Harjo’s eagle or a glimpse of a fox in an autumn cornfield.  Some do speak, but not with words—the wind sighing in the ponderosas, the susurration of the brook at the edge of town. Anyone seeking the advice of nature, silent or audible, can take a walk down a country road on a late November afternoon and find much to consider. Even the leaves that whisper and rustle underfoot are a song of the turning wheel of the year. We fall, and then we rise, they seem to say. We cover the earth now and protect the seed and nut that lie sleeping; wait and see.

Who can ignore the language of the golden tamaracks that spear up in the dark green hills, while a scarf of white mist floats halfway up the mountain? Along the road, bits of milkweed floss are caught among the chokecherry twigs, and the Clark’s nutcracker shows up, ready to spend a few months at a lower altitude.    

There is a kind of fever that comes in the fall. While the bears and marmots move sluggishly into hibernation, humans don’t feel that lassitude, or if they do, it doesn’t last. Wanderlust afflicts many of us in autumn, whether we choose to travel to a distant place, reconnect with friends, or simply walk down that country road and listen with our hearts. Here again, the words are spoken without sound: we hear a summons and we follow, ready to discover.

This time of year, old vistas open up again, revealing hills and valleys.  As the aspens shed their fluttering bits of yellow, we consider the broader horizons and the sky that now seems so blue and deep. Perhaps it is that turning wheel with its repeated rhythms that lets gratitude wash over us and shows us the enduring fundamentals. What is more concrete than the ribbed branches of the cottonwood, now naked and pointing to the sky? Or the slowing trickle of the stream, skimmed here and there with a film of ice? These are the essentials that anchor us and remind us how fortunate we are. In the stillness, we know that life is more than DNA and protoplasm. As strong as an oak and as delicate as the veins in a leaf, it is the convergence of chaos into order.

Curious minds look beneath the surface and discover new worlds and possibilities. The positives begin to outweigh the negatives, making room for change—a grouse feather on the path, a bright spangle of lichen on a boulder, a V of geese and their peculiar yipping song. Walking home, the evening and the prospect of tomorrow hold more promise. Down the road on the right, that’s the house; the one with the windows glowing like little orange squares in the twilight. Even the newly replenished woodpile feels like a benediction, and the good cheer of the fireside awaits.

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