I step into a golden morning and something of the old self dies in the light. I am breathing in freshness ancient and new. My feet are damp with melting frost, and the sun is kissing every scarlet leaf. There is a presence with me in these woods, near and sweet, revealed suddenly through the tall river grasses – a blue heron, where the spring feeds the river. He is startled, and rises into the air downstream.
I slip under the drooping cover of a Norway spruce, where a hundred silky webs have caught the morning light between the branches. It is not long before I am surrounded by many small and flitting friends. Yellow warbler, blue jay, starling, robin, red-winged blackbird, and on the water, noiseless mallards and a lone Canada goose. I am in their domain, but as long as I am quiet and slow, they regard me with curiosity and accept me in their midst. What is it about their company that is so comforting? They seem to look at me with eyes from another world. As I rest into the life of the tree, their song reappears and soon crescendos into unreserved joy.
It is then that the heron returns, descending to the little island as a king takes up his throne. Does he see me, hidden here under the spruce boughs? Can he sense my eagerness? Has he come from parted heavens to voice that I am beloved? The water is still as glass, waiting for his next move.
The leaves are just beginning to turn and descend. I pick up a particular shade of golden and hold it up to the September light. The road between the cemetery and my grandparents’ house is a passageway to autumn. I notice another leaf, a veined maple, and add it to the first in my hand. Suddenly, I am noticing yellows all around. Wildflowers I don’t know the names of. A cluster of winged seed pods. Even a dandelion. I gather them to my notice, where they are turned from wayside weeds into jewels of wonder. My palm is cupped with gold, a fleeting treasure but for the store it feeds in my mind’s eye.
This is the second bouquet I’ve picked this morning. The first was harvested from the edges of the cemetery to lay at my Grandad’s resting place. Purple asters, fern, soft pine, spicy cedar, and one brilliant scarlet maple leaf. It is not only the end of summer, but of a season of summers, 45 years of his life built along the edge of the Trent Canal. A little harvest of beauty. This is what I lay on the hallowed ground in thanks and praise.
Now on the walk home I am graced with these shades of a summer well lived. Seasons shift. Flowers fade. And yet there is always glory to gather, even in the ditches. We give what love we have, and find it reflected in the leaves at our feet. Beauty yet shines through tears and change, and grace perfumes the air of our journey. And I catch the glint of it all, like a twinkle in my Grandad’s eye.
At 10:22 pm, the international space station, for a span of minutes only, rising and setting across the northern sky, whizzing through Cassiopeia’s vanity, reflecting all our grasping for higher power.
The comet Neowise, dangling from the Big Dipper, three miles of ice in a six thousand year orbit, white hair blown back by solar winds, streaming ‘this summer only’ across the big screen, the first I’ve ever seen.
And fireflies, gleaming in the tall grasses by the water, rising like sparks from struck coals, courting nocturnal admirers, winking at our chasing eyes, as mysteriously luminous as the heavenly bodies above.
And we five, around our own firelight, mere steps from the incoming sea, gathering, seeing, rejoicing, feeling our place in the Milky Way, just one spinning sphere, poised for glory.
How beautiful the black and moonless night, that lifts the curtain on comet and firefly alike.
When four were in bed, drowsy with marshmallows and midnight, I stole out, toothbrush in hand, across the silent campground.
Water and air held a great stillness, so that the stars reflected in the rising tide of the bay. Never have I seen the dark ocean so smooth.
Amazing how one wonder opens to another, and I want to follow those stars like stepping stones across the sea, up and into what the heavens are telling.
Instead, I give my eyes one last, long exposure, to print the night into the memory of my soul, and turn in toward the closeness of our family cocoon.
With so much light, how could I not be seen, even when so much else is yet invisible?