Sunday, November 22, 2020

November Musings


With all that’s happening at this time – from the global coronavirus pandemic to political instabilty here in the U.S. – it is, without doubt, a time of stress and uncertainty, loss and grief.

Aware of all of this, I realized I needed to be in nature today as I always find this experience to be grounding and reenergizing. And so with my friend Adnan I visited what I call the Prayer Tree, located by Minnehaha Creek in south Minneapolis.

Adnan currently has things happening in his personal life that are causing much upheaval and stress, and during our time immersed in nature this afternoon, he seemed to retreat within himself, to be spirited away on some deep level. I asked him later what had happened, and he responded that standing by the flowing water and among the trees had somehow made everything he’s going through “more real.”

Yes, I said, nature will do that.

And what feeling did this greater awareness make you feel, I asked.

A feeling of uncertainty, Adnan replied.

We talked some more about this but there really wasn’t much I could do. As my work in chaplaincy has taught me, I can’t “fix” things for others; I can’t make their pain, problems, and, yes, uncertainty go away. But I can listen, validate, humanize, and make them feel not so alone in their experience of being overwhelmed. And so that’s what I did. And I hope that it made a difference, that it planted a seed, perhaps; a seed of hope and resilience within and for my friend.

This evening I share some photos from today, and from a couple of weeks ago when I spent time with another friend, my buddy Raul, by Lake of the Isles in south Minneapolis. There are also some photos taken in my garden and one in my friend Brigid’s garden. Oh, and there’s a photo of a neighbor’s unused garage doors! It’s a strange collection of images, to be sure. But I think they all come together thematically so as to create a sense of continuity, perhaps even wholeness.

Accompanying this collection of images are some words of insight and wisdom – some musings – on the seasons of both autumn and winter; seasons that, in the north, often blend together in this month of November.


Transformation is the business of winter. In Gaelic mythology, the hag deity known as the Cailleach takes human form at Samhain to rule the winter months, bringing with her winds and wild weather. Her very steps change the land: the mountains of Scotland were formed when she dropped rocks from her basket, and she carries a hammer for forming valleys. A touch of her staff is enough to freeze the ground. Yet the Cailleach is thought to be the mother of the gods, the gruff, cold originator of all things. Her reign lasts only until the beginning of May, when Brighde takes over and the Cailleach turns to stone. In some versions of the mythology, the Cailleach and Brighde are two faces of the same goddess: youth and vitality for summer, age and wisdom for winter.

As we so often find in ancient folklore, the Cailleach offers us a cyclical metaphor for life, one in which the energies of spring arrive again and again, nurtured by the deep retreat of winter.

We are no longer accustomed to thinking in this way. Instead we are in the habit of imagining our lives to be linear, a long march from birth to death in which we mass our powers, only to surrender them again, all the while slowly losing our youthful beauty. This is a brutal untruth. Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.

– Katherine May
Excerpted from Wintering: The Power of
Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times

Riverhead Books, 2020



As you stand in the woods, reflect on your life. Ponder the part of your life that feels satisfying and rewarding: the dimension of it that is like the plentitude and fullness of an autumn harvest, the part that is mellow and fulfilling. Now look at the last of the leaves hangng on the branches. Watch as one falls . . . and as you watch, become aware of a part of your life that is also hanging on a branch, about to break free and fall to the ground. See what it is that you need to let go of, what can no longer be a part of your life. Take time to be with this.

What does it feel like to be there among the beauty of the trees with their fallen leaves on the ground? Is it consoling? Does it hurt? Is it helpful? Is it challenging? Does it encourage you?

– Joyce Rupp and Macrina Wiederkehr
Excerpted from “Entering the Heart of Autumn”
in The Circle of Life: The Heart’s Journey Through the Seasons
Sorin Books, 2005



I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.



The tree is waiting. It has everything ready. Its fallen leaves are mulching the forest floor, and its roots are drawing up the extra winter moisture, providing a firm anchor against seasonal storms. Its ripe cones and nuts are providing essential food in this scarce time for mice and squirrels, and its bark is hosting hibernating insects and providing a source of nourishment for hungry deer. It is far from dead. It is in fact the life and soul of the wood. It’s just getting on with it quietly. It will not burst into life in the spring. It will just put on a new coat and face the world again.

– Katherine May
Excerpted from Wintering: The Power of
Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times

Riverhead Books, 2020



Trees have learned to live large, despite constraints. They have all kinds of rich relationships, too, with the birds and insects and other beings that seek out their branches and nest in their hollowed trucks. “I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do,” writes Willa Cather.

In a world of restless motion, trees restore us to stillness and calm. Entering a forest is like entering a cathedral. And vise versa. Gothic cathedrals, with their lofty, ribbed vaults, recall the leafy roofs and towering trucks of the sacred groves where humans first worshipped. In both places, we stand in awe.

– Mary Reynolds Thompson
Excerpted from Reclaiming the Wild Soul:
How Earth’s Landscapes Restore Us to Wholeness

Wild Cloud Press, 2014



I love the beauty of life’s last dance with the above ground realm at this time of year, as each being turns inward, towards the darkness and the sweet embrace of quietude. How I love these golden displays, this fire that burns bright in yellows, oranges and reds, before descending to feed the ground below, turning to compost, dark matter, feeding and holding the seeds, the future.

And as winter takes hold of the land, if you listen, if you watch, you will feel, hear, sense the seeds, as they dream into being, held by their elders, nourished by their homeland. Dreaming, stretching, reaching tenderly, powerfully; growing into medicine, food, beauty and life.

Take a moment to listen on those darkening days, to feel the beauty, the becoming, being whispered upon the land. Use this as a mirror for your own soul, your own inner landscape. If you feel into the darkness, when all around you feels lost; if you listen deeply enough, compassionately, you will notice the seeds inside yourself, learning, stretching, growing; wanting to rewild the concrete, birthing your medicine, for you.




Knowing who we are and what we alone have to offer is essential to living our lives fully and well. But in a world that seeks our conformity more that it desires our gifts, we often must struggle to be true to ourselves. . . . We often neglect to develop our innate and unique talents, and the larger world suffers from that self-neglect. Rather, we shape ourselves to fit the world as we see it to be, or as we are told it is, hoping to ensure our welcome and sense of purpose that way.

But nature wants us to mix it up. . . . Being open to our true nature – what we emerged from Earth for – is ultimately an act of faith. . . . Nature is purposeful. The Earth needs your gifts.

– Mary Reynolds Thompson
Excerpted from Reclaiming the Wild Soul:
How Earth’s Landscapes Restore Us to Wholeness

Wild Cloud Press, 2014



See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Landscape Is a Mirror
Hallowtide Reflections
“This Autumn Land Is Dreaming”
Autumn: Season of Transformation and Surrender
Autumnal (and Rather Pagan) Thoughts on the Making of “All Things New”
Autumn – Within and Beyond (2018)
Autumn – Within and Beyond (2016)
Autumn Snow
First Snowfall
After the Season’s First Snowstorm, a Walk Through the Neighborhood
Thomas Moore on the Circling of Nature as the Best Way to Find Our Substance
In This In-Between Time
The Mysticism of Trees
Winter of Content
Winter Arrives!
December’s Snowy Start
A Winter Walk Along Minnehaha Creek
Winter’s Return
Winter Storm
Winter Beauty
Winter . . . Within and Beyond (2019)
Winter . . . Within and Beyond (2017)
Balancing the Fire

Images: Michael J. Bayly.


2 comments:

Sj Southwick said...

That’s an especially lovely one.

Mum said...

Really, really loved it!