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Falling into the Dark Half of the Year

Change is in the air. Do you feel it? Last night I closed the windows before going to bed for the first time since early June. In the mornings now, I hug my jacket close as I wander with the goats before starting my working day. I have become used to opening my eyes on early dark mornings to see Orion looming over me through the bedroom window. Here - for now - in the mountains of Idaho, it will still be hot by midday. But the nights are growing longer and the cold that slips down from the mountains while we sleep is more and more reluctant to retreat each morning. Birds and squirrels and foxes are getting ready. We are about to pass over the threshold that is the Autumnal Equinox. After this day - one of two which mark the points during the year in which daylight and darkness are of equal length - and all the way until mid-March, our nights will be longer than our days.

Are you ready? Do you live in harmony with the seasons? Your body will respond, certainly, even if those responses are beneath your conscious awareness. Your body, which varies little from those of your Homo sapiens ancestors of 200,000 years ago, always responds to what is happening around you. How does your body react to the changing weather? to the growing cold? how do you deal with shorter periods of daylight (and falling levels of vitamin D)? does the quality or amount of your sleep change (more darkness = more melatonin)? do you feel anxious or have a desire to “nest” or maybe to migrate? what about your diet - do your meal choices and cravings change with the season? are you basking in and celebrating these last golden days of autumn? are you noticing?

So often we feel that time is flying by because we are not paying attention to the cues our bodies are sensing; we are not noticing. Living a life of presence requires paying attention. It requires living in harmony with both the seasons of the Earth and the seasons of our lives. When we live in harmony with the seasons, we acknowledge the moods and experiences and dramas of the Earth and Sky, as well as those occurring within our own bodies. We let ourselves participate in these stories as willing actors, and we explore how we resonate not just physically with what is happening around us, but interiorly as well. Simple practices - such as a morning walk, sitting for five minutes on a park bench at the same time each day, or taking time to notice the sunset each evening - can reduce stress, shake us more frequently into the present moment, and help tether us to the natural world and its rhythms.

What does the Autumn Equinox mean to you? For me, this passage always feels like the perfect time to assess the balance of my life, to check in on what needs to be tweaked at the level of my body, my story, my soul. How do I want to shift my activities to better align with what is happening on the Earth? How can I balance the demands of autumn days full of work and preparation with the desire to slow down, sleep a bit more, and enjoy this golden period of abundance?

In autumn, when I pay attention, I notice that the dark quiet mornings, the crisp air, and the heft of a warm sweater can mysteriously generate a blend nostalgia, gratitude, wistfulness, and resignation. I notice that my story calls me to be more inward, creative, scholarly. I notice that I look, each day, more anxiously for the departure of the sandhill cranes.

This is a good time to pause, between the great seasonal out-breath of summer and the in-breath that will carry us through the dark half of the year. Pausing allows for presence. As Annie Dillard once reminded us, “how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” Lives full of presence are constructed of many, many moments of daily presence - of paying close attention, of noticing.

Today on my morning ramble I noticed a large red-tailed hawk perched high and (hopefully) at a safe distance from my chickens. The grasses in the fields I walked were tall and crisp and golden, the plump seed heads providing a tasty treat for the goats. In the sky the unique blue of September provided a backdrop for high pillowy clouds. Additionally, these: grasshoppers skittering through raspy leaves, a weary heaviness and finality expressed by the collapsed pea vines and daisies. A barn swallow drifting gracefully on air currents to a lone Ponderosa pine. Last rosebuds waiting impatiently for their last opportunities to burst into bloom. Tomatoes longing to turn red - maybe - just in time to beat the frost. Sap composition is shifting - you can feel it. Migrations are being pondered and organized. The breezes carry hints of October.

What is going on in and around you today, in this moment? What do the air, the light, the sounds around you feel like? What calls for your attention? Watch the animals and plants - what are they doing? Are your emotions, thoughts, and body in rhythm with the land’s experience? What resonates, what is dissonant? What might happen if you let yourself fall into the story of right now? What will happen if you let yourself fall, fully aware, to be planted into the dark half of the year?

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