Oct 26, 2014

Impermanence and Returning to The Land

I'm feeling a little broken-open of late. I know I'm not alone. October has been beautiful, warm, magical, unsettling, and heart wrenching. It sounds like a country song, and feels like a warm blanket, and a good cry.

There has been tragedy, both here in Canada, and in the US this week, and there has been a profound loss in our community again - too many this year.  At the begining of the month, a dear friend's daughter succumbed to breast cancer. She was only 35 years old.

The ancestor altar is full.

This isn't a new experience for us. And it won't be the last of it. This is the cost of being human. Loving people that may move out of this realm before we are ready to see them leave.  Building community and "safe" places, and structures, that can crumble right in front of us.  We forget sometimes that impermanence isn't something to fight.  It is what we are.

I've just come in from turning over the vegetable gardens, and readying them for their long Winter's rest.  They were fruitful.  But there were also greens that didn't survive the summer. A few plants bloomed too late to grow anything worth harvesting.  Some rushed out of the earth too early this past Spring and were frost-bitten. For every abundant crop, there was a flower or an herb that didn't quite become the lush plant I had hoped for. The pruning shears were merciless.

Having a garden is one of the best lessons of (almost daily) impermanence I know of. As much as I thanked the earth today, and raked in compost and offerings, and as grateful as I was to have had a good harvest, there was still a feeling of loss.  I will never get this growing season back. I can't jump back to June, and tie up the tomatoes in a better fashion so they might have more sun, or fertilize the squash to ensure a more robust harvest. The growing season is over.

I am processing the impermanence all around me in the best way I know how.  With my hands in the dirt a few last times, holding my loved ones a little closer, ever crawling back to my ancestors, the land, my magic.

Byron Ballard says it better, in her post on "Tower Time" and "Going to Ground":

"We work ourselves into a frenzy of grief and guilt and spiritual activity. We open ourselves to the sorrow and anger, and filter it as best we can. We meet for coffee, and walks, and we talk for hours on the phone. Gentling the community in its outrage, cushioning it from outright despair. We are blown about by the winds and waves of all that assails us and sometimes the only place to go for succor, for comfort is away from the computer and the phone and the endless cups of coffee. To the garden, to the woods, to the earth."

The riverside I know and love is gone. The earth movers came, to make way for the big machines that will roll in to fix the crumbling bridges. The mullein is gone. The tansy, the goldenrod I let be this year, so it would come back more fully next season.  Milkweed, cinquefoil, wild mustards, horsetail, and burdock have vanished.  The wild roses and raspberries, and the high bush cranberries and Oregon grape that grew along the both sides of the walking path - all gone.

But nature has a way of taking back what we steal from it.  The few shrubs, trees and green life left at the edge of the destruction will spread this coming Spring.  The plants will seed and the wind will spread them far and wide again.  The land will outlive the earth movers.  The only impermanence is us.

I'm reminded of the stunning writings of earlier this summer from Peter Grey and Sarah Anne Lawless, linked and quoted succinctly in this post from HecateDemeter, where she also speaks for the city witches, saying:

"And we city Witches need to commune with the spirits of our places, with the “uncivilized world of nature” in our cities if we hope to know the names, powers, and dwelling spaces of our local spirits."

Do you know your land, your local spirits?  Do they show you the impermanence in the seasons, in the washing away of land in floods and storms, or the crumbling of old buildings under climbing vines and trees?

We can all of us, rural and urban dwellers, go back to the land in our own way, and commune with the spirits of our places.  Let's go there. I suspect our dead will come too.


Anonymous said...

"The land will outlive the earth movers. The only impermanence is us."

Yes. I know *exactly* what you mean. Exactly.

And yes, I do think I know my land, my meadow. And the spirits who have resided here from time immemorial. Overall rather undemanding, they only really wish to commune. And I do.

Rue said...

Of course you would know, lovely Niffy - she who speaks of "marrow and meadow." Commune on, sister.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

So sad to hear about your friend's daughter. 35 is much, much too young to depart this life.

mrsduncanmahogany said...

That's sad news. This month has been hard on many levels. Hard to enjoy and get in the spirit when there is so much sadness.

sunwyn said...

Condolences on the loss of your friend. For me this Samhain will be especially different as I lost my Mom to cancer last month...

Aine O'Brien said...

I have been here three years. In this time I have come to know the land slowly, over time. Now many prompts (including this post) nudge me to go deeper and forge relationships with the spirits of this land. I'm not one to move quickly when it comes to living in new places. I am slow to work my way into the community and in this case the community of the land. I think, perhaps, it is time.

Rue said...

Deepest condolences on your loss Sunwyn. Blessings to you and your family.

Debra Nehring said...

I am so sorry for your losses, Rue and Sunwyn.
Somehow platitudes never seem like the right thing, but they are all we have.
Having moved to this property in May I haven't had much time to create a relationship with the spirits of the land, but it is my firm intention to do so.
Thank you for such a lovely post. Bittersweetness.

Anonymous said...

Condolences to you and your friend at this difficult time <3

Getting back to the earth is a brilliant way to find oneself again, I've found the earth to be a good anchor in the midst of chaos.

Aidan Wachter said...

This is a beautiful & honest piece of writing, Jen. Thank you for it.


Sarah said...

You made me tear up. ((HUGS)) to you and to the land. And to the family who just lost a member this week.

Anonymous said...

How can I add love and hearts to your reply on my comment, Rue? :) :) :)

Engie Willow said...

My deepest and sincerest condolences to you and your friend.

Thank you for sharing this beautiful and powerful post. <3

Wulf said...

This is beautifully written, as always, but very instructive too. If we're paying attention, we see the cycle of the seasons and look forward to the return of certain plants and other markers around the wheel of the year. But major changes like the re-building of the river bank will activate the start of other, slower-moving cycles of regeneration, renewal of topsoil, and competition for sunlight and position that will eventually end up at the same point in the seasonal round that we knew, but perhaps not in one small human lifetime. In the meantime, this kind of event lets us get a look at the internal mechanisms of Nature that are usually hidden under the stability of mature growth.

Rue said...

Thank you for this Wulf. In the moment of seeing something so ingrained in my daily life and happiness completely leveled - all I felt was loss. The "internal mechanism of Nature" is something I'm going to meditate on this winter, and I'll be watching all the more eagerly this spring as life returns there.