On a light day, the fall can feel like bright festivity. Blue skies draw awareness to the crimson tops of trees, cheery in contrast, playful in their varied hues. Busy squirrels and birds tend to nuts and berries and seem to prepare for a cool-weather party. Soft breezes offer gentle refreshment, warmed by the brilliant sun.

In time, the splendor makes way for inevitable decay. Soon, the leaves will brown and curl on the frozen ground. Animals will hide away and hope their storage sustains them through whatever winter brings. The sun will retreat into long, dark nights and gray days. The limbs of the trees will cling to an empty sky.

At times, celebration is clearly an appropriate response to life's beauty - the harvest, worthy of awe and thanks, leads us to effortless reverence and joy. But times when our efforts appear to lay fallow, descend like discarded leaves, or disintegrate into dead earth leave us hollow. How can such loss and letting go yield thanks? Especially when our work has been in attempted service to greater good, the pain can be felt as betrayal.

Both tenderness and decomposition make the fodder for our lives. Each instructs us, if we can receive the movements with malleable hearts, how to become shaped for the times we are given. We can learn to mute our own desires for what is required to receive the gift. We can relinquish old ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing to see the present as it really is. We can shed the hardened skin of ambition to bare our raw, vulnerable humanity.

Through fires and rivers, celebration and sacrifice, we are shown how to see the sacredness of every season; how to treasure what is precious and essential; and how to let go, to be saved.


"In Blackwater Woods"
by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
to let it go.