Fall Rituals

Dear Friends,
This weekend, fall arrived in the Northwest in a clatter of rain: rain that soaked into the thirsty earth, feeding the tangled roots of the squash, tomatoes, beans; rain that will swell the streams, allowing salmon to surge upriver to spawn at last. I spent the weekend at the North Cascades Institute, teaching a class with my old friend Kurt Hoelting called Sit, Walk, Write: Nature and the Practice of Presence. The rain became an active participant in our daily sitting practice, thrumming the roof each time Kurt rang the bell, calling us to attention, reminding us that we’ve shifted toward fall.

The rain knew when to quit, thankfully, easing for an afternoon so we could hike up to the waterfall, walk in silence beneath towering cedars, douglas firs, and hemlocks—scarlet leaves of the vine maples shimmering in staccato relief. Together, we reflected on this transition, the outer landscape mirroring the inner transition we each must make. I returned feeling renewed, energized, at last able to welcome fall with an open heart.

It’s never easy to let summer go and this summer especially—this last month of September blue skies and days still warm enough to swim —but I’ve tried to take comfort in the rituals of fall: picking the last of the raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, apples, plums, figuring out ways to preserve as much as we can. We freeze the berries, slice up the good apples and freeze them for pies and cobblers, save the rest for cooking into applesauce with cinnamon or pressing into cider.

Our plum tree surprised us with a load of ripe plums this year, despite the drought, and I tried my friend Heidi’s recipe for Asian Plum Sauce, a tantalizing, complex, blend of sweet/spicy, perfect over salmon or chicken. As I lowered the jars into the water bath, counted out the minutes they need to process, I was reminded that we, too, need this processing time in the fall, need time to let go of the lazier days of summer, to shift back into work, teaching, projects, whatever fall brings. That with fall will come rain, roasted root vegetables and soup, time to gather again with friends at the hearth and around the table and yes, time to write.

All these rituals are preparation for what lies ahead. As I hang out the last load of laundry in the fading fall sun, pinning each dripping sock to the line, I let the words swirl in my head, trust that they’ll find their way to the page soon enough. That all these rituals give our minds the time they need to process, that soon we’ll hear the ping, ping, ping of the jar lids as they cool, feel the satisfaction as the words click into place.

Reflect on the rituals that help you shift into fall. Choose one to write about—giving us ALL the sensory details as if you could preserve it like huckleberry jam—and post it here. We look forward to seeing what you do to ease this transition, how words can help us process these rhythms in our lives as the earth tilts away from the sun once again.

With gratitude,

8 thoughts on “Fall Rituals

  1. As one of the best parts of the day, the ferry takes me to work come September as it has for the past twenty years. Particularly at the beginning of the school year, it feels like a consolation if not a whole system massage kneading in calm, smoothing the hunched shoulders, the tight stomach, the furrowed brow, the racing mind that come with the transition from summer to the breathless teaching schedule of autumn.

    Last week I savored hearing the rhythmic shush of the boat moving through the water and the soaking in the unlikely warmth of an afternoon sun in October on the deck of the Spokane Ferry. I knew it was quite possibly and literally the last rays of warmth I would feel on the deck for seasons to come. When the boat veered a bit more West aiming at the Kingston dock, a thin shadow chilled my bench, so I stood and leaned over the rail inhaling the sea air that stirs a lifetime of memories into a hush of satisfaction.

    I usually scan the waters searching for signs of life, but on this home-bound trip, summer slowness lingered and I let my head hang and there, right below my gaze, amazingly close to the the ship where the great hull cut through the water, a spotted seal popped up. It blinked and leaned back bobbing and rocking in the wake as the boat plowed on. My eyes held it long as it grew smaller and smaller. Work brought me to this spot, this warmth, this rail, this place of privileged seeing. All of it electrified me with re-energizing gratitude. Such currents will charge me with light in the winter months ahead.

    • Oh, Sue, thanks so much for sharing this special moment of connecting with that seal with us. Lovely–you put us right there, standing at the rail, next to you–and we carry away your sense of gratitude.

  2. I do not like fall, let me say that up front, so there can be no misunderstanding. I, creature of the summer, find myself inexplicably trapped in the fog crusted rain sogged rot leaved dreariness of the Pacific Northwest. I chaff at the scratch of thick knit against my still sun toasted skin. Where are the sweet strawberries?

    I hastily fortify the walls of my sanctum; close windows and draw curtains, lock every tendril of chilled air outside where it can go torture someone else, as if I care.

    To start the business of preserving my soul, I light a candle. And another one. And put matches to a log in the fireplace, held over from last year in anticipation of this very day. The world softens with orange glow and gentle, pulsing warmth. I inhale, what is it? Smoke. Warm wax. Comfort.

    • Thanks so much for your honesty–I suspect there are many readers our there who are in full agreement with you about giving up summer–and for sharing your lovely ritual of lighting candles and fires as the light disappears. Comfort, yes.

  3. Fall for me is turning back the clock when growing up in Illinois and to sit among those memories of incredible rituals of fall festivals, wiener roasts, harvesting of corn, the gnarly vines of squash and pumpkin, caterpillars creeping across roads, tipping of outhouses or ringing doorbells late at night and hiding in a bush.

    In Tucson, many years later, I stand in my yard in late August year after year and begin to watch the sky, color of light, and most particularly, the clouds. The morning I notice the club of clouds shaping low at the base of the Catalina’s and along the Rincon’s Mountains, I know autumn is pushing over the shoulder of summer. Soon, soon, the temps will achingly at a snail’s pace begin to drop, and over a few weeks time, very close up into the neighbors Mulberry tree, golden leaves will hide. Shortly strings of whisper thin cobwebs criss-cross in the air, the slant of shadow shifts to a lower arch, plants begin to hold their heads high and sniff the coolness that enters during the night.

    Out come the crock pot, pumpkin recipes, stews and breads. The fire-pit is moved from behind the potting shed and fitted with the right amount of wood for the first evening fire. The cats stretch long and lean and look for little patches of morning sunlight instead of laying flat on their backs under the AC. Our autumn, our fall, our smiles.

    • How wonderful Sally! For me, the crockpot just got dusted off too, and the first fall stews brewing: sweet potato/red lentil; Pinto Bean and Yam; Tuscan Chicken with olives and lemon.

  4. Oh, Sally, I can see this–the leaves, the cobwebs, the firepit, the cats, and I can smell the fall stew and homemade bread! I think fall food is my favorite–which helps, too. This week a squash/wild rice stew–and our first loaf of artisan bread. Thanks for posting!