Our apple tree has begun to flower. For me, that’s the tree’s best time because its small, green apples have so far been wrinkled and sour. I take a bite every year and make a face; I can’t even cook them. Instead they fall to the ground, food for birds and animals. The flowers are gorgeous.
When we lived in Santa Barbara, California, our neighbor, a gardener, said to me one day: “Fall’s begun. Don’t you love it?”
I looked around, sniffed, and said, “How can you tell?”
You can tell in New England; it’s easy to get intoxicated by the seasons. Now, springtime, the birds wake me up every morning at 5. I open the dog doors and Harry and Aussie rush out, barking and sniffing at the tracks and scents of all the animals that had crossed the yard at night, when they were shut in and couldn’t protect the house from invaders. Fawns and cubs are out there, a newborn generation beginning its life, and slowly, slowly—for this has been a cold spring—the lilac buds are opening up outside my office window.
I don’t have to say much about fall in New England and even the cold winters are beautiful to my eyes: icy, white, vast.
But those are not the only seasons around here.
A friend, neighbor, and poet, at the age of 71, is planting 50 fruit trees. ”They’ll start growing soon,” he said, “but after a while I won’t be around to enjoy their fruit. It feels good to be doing this for the next generation.”
He opened my eyes to another sense of seasons. I have a season, too. When I die, is it over? What am I planting for the season after that, and the season after that?
The Native Americans say the ancestors are always with us. What kind of ancestor am I?
Every morning I walk out to do a service by our wooden Kwan-Yin, of whom I’ve written a few times. Built by a neo-Nazi student for his teacher, it arrived at the Montague Farm where we lived and worked once upon a time, and when we left, the new owners were ambivalent about retaining it, so we brought her to our back yard where she’s been standing all this time. Tulips are now growing in her honor; Harry pees on them, also in her honor. And I’ve been noticing the sawdust that has piled up behind her.
“It’s probably the chipmunks living there,” Tim told me. “They’re eating at the wood, which is soft by now anyway from all the weather damage.”
We’ve known for a long time that Kwan-Yin is being carved up by the weather; we also know that she’s so fragile it’s impossible to move her. But this pile of shavings is new. I see it each morning and think about the critters taking shelter inside her, her body hollowing and hollowing as a result.
On the one hand, she’s had her season. At the Farm we celebrated Buddha’s birthday in front of her with food and tea offerings. She gazed down on the Saturday lunches cooked for the community (the progenitor of the Stone Soup Café in Greenfield), dozens of families from all walks of life coming into a circle to introduce ourselves and say grace, children playing ball in her shadow.
Then she came here and watched over Bernie through his illness and death, watched over me and two generations of dogs, not to mention the wildlife, finally giving her body over in order to become their home.
One day she’ll collapse, or rot. But will her season end? We won’t be able to use the sodden wood in the fireplace, but critters will continue to live inside the crevices and between the wood logs. The dogs haven’t touched the sawdust but other animals will. In one form or another, her season will go on and on.
Your season will go on, too, as will mine. Bernie himself didn’t believe in reincarnation. “What remain are the results of your actions,” he used to say. Some of us will leave books, some new, thriving institutions, some fruit trees, and some teachings and memories, that will become almost a physiological part of the next generations. Even as new seasons begin, what ends?