The sky today is a mosaic of grays, sparkling whites, and veins of crystal-clear blue. The sun finds her way between all the patterning, and casts crazy shadows that dart across the garden. This morning the streets had that mellow scent of fresh rain. All of these delights are the offerings of autumn, sending a calling card of slanted shadows and a few golden leaves in advance of her arrival.

I’m happy to see her come! Autumn has always been my favorite season and I thrill to hear the wild geese once again singing their homage to the coming cold moons. In Medicine Wheel teachings, fall sits in the west, bringing the energies of harvest, and of both grief and celebration: What thrived? What blossomed and then unexpectedly died on the vine? What have we gathered to fill our larder for the coming winter and will it be enough? Can we hold all these colliding energies in our hearts simultaneously?

This Autumn, my housemates and I have been surrounded by unexpected deaths of friends, pets, folks dear to us, and those who orbit our lives as as treasured acquaintances, or complete strangers yet dear to our good friends. The deaths came swiftly, one upon the other.

At first, we slipped into grief as Cody, the eldest of our dog tribe, died of cancer. Then we fell into astonishment as the numbers began piling up.

Spent Queen Ann’s Lace with a hardy yarrow defying the brown.

I wander the garden now, and see the soft fingers of death enclose the annual weeds, and send the perennial plants into hibernation. I say goodbye to the milkweed stalks, knowing I’ll see them again come spring. Gold is the color of autumn, and red, too, but closer to the ground, beneath the watching eyes of the tall maples and alders, brown is the color that surrounds me. Dark browns, tans, prickly brown seed heads, sagging brown flower heads, beige leaves curling to a crisp.

Autumn gives us this glimpse of leave-taking, of perishing, and of moving on in spite of what we know awaits all of us at some point or the other. At 38 years, I was told I had perhaps a year or two of life left to me. And even then, I knew the diagnosis would be my greatest gift: Brushing so close to that coldest of moons where none awaken into spring gave me a startling perspective that changed and enriched my life more than I can say. I’m a better person for it.

Are the yellowing elderberry leaves better for it? Or the bumble bees whose season is nearly done, their young queens the only ones who may survive the winter? What about the butterflies in their chrysalises now–the ones who will not find their wings come spring? And the berries unpicked on the vine, shriveled and bringing their sweet juiciness to no one? Are they all the better for it?

I don’t know, but I know I am better for witnessing them, for truly seeing them. Their teachings are honest and true, encompassing both mystery and harshness, and stirring up emotions in me that remain unnamed for now. Whomever springs up from the brown ground or the stone pile come spring, I will celebrate, trusting that those who took leave–whether bee, or root, or winged–have left the whisper of their essence behind. They never leave, I think, but their offerings change form into compost, or food for some hungry one, or fertile soil for my heart’s sweetest longings.

May I come to grieve the celebration, and celebrate the grieving–all one thing. All one thing.

I’ve watered this all summer. I thought it was a weed, but then it turned into this just yesterday! Autumn has her mysteries!

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