Seeing Spring in Autumn

There’s snow at home, an unexpected blanket nearly two feet thick dumped by an unusual fall storm. And here in the crazy autumn of central Texas, it feels to me like spring. The air is soft, moist, and warm, flowers bloom, and butterflies dance over prairies greened by rains that finally came last month after 20-some months of drought. In the face of these wild weather swings, “climate-boinga,” the term coined by writer, editor, blog-book-tour queen, and gardener Dani Greer to replace the somewhat-misleading term of “global warming” seems awfully apt.


(That’s a migrating monarch butterfly tanking up on nectar at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center in Austin.)

Since arriving in Austin on Tuesday, I’ve plunged into the world of book promotion, doing several appearances with my friend and fellow writer, Susan Albert, whose memoir, Together, Alone, came out from University of Texas Press this year, as did my own Walking Nature Home. Best known for her China Bayles mystery series, Susan is well-read, thoughtful, and just a pleasure to work with. Our programs take the form of public conversations: each of us reads a bit from our respective memoirs, and then we talk over that passage, teasing out what it says about our writing, our journeys, and our lives. We’re learning as much as our audience.

If you’re in the Austin area and want to catch our evolving dialog, Susan A and I will present one more conversation, Story Circle Network at the First United Methodist Church, 1201 Lavaca Street in Austin, on Monday, November 2nd at 7:00 p.m. (We’re also both signing books at the University of Texas Press tent at the Texas Book Festival on Sunday, Nov. 1 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.) Join us if you can!


Richard and I made time one afternoon to go to one of my favorite Austin-area places, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center. Walking the trails through the native blackland prairie, we were amazed by the abundance of wildflowers: Maximillian sunflowers in tall clumps, tickseed in drifts of gold around islands of spreading oak and juniper, flecks of pink and blue marking tiny blossoms I couldn’t identify, a prostrate milkweed blooming in extravagant balls, the pointed buds of wild onion ready to burst into starry bloom. (That’s tickseed above, and milkweed, with one wild onion, below.)


Today, we strolled Austin’s West Sixth Arts District, poking into galleries to look at sculptural art, and sharing our delight in the details of the area’s lovingly tended historic houses, like this house named for its beautiful veranda (that’s a porch for we ignorant northerners!) and the tall windows with real shutters for use in real storms.


Tomorrow is Samhain, the day in the Celtic calendar that marks the changing of the year between the
light months when all the world (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere) goes mad with growth and reproduction, and the dark months when life takes a break and slows down for winter. (Most of us know tomorrow as Halloween, a time to dress in costume and beg for treats, or the day before Dia del Muerto, when we tend to the spirits of our dead.) It seems odd to be celebrating this transitional time, the holidays that mark the end of summer, here where a spring of sorts has just blossomed.

Or perhaps it’s not so odd. Life feels topsy-turvy in many ways, whether in the global sense as climate change causes wild swings in the planet’s weather, or the personal sense with perennially healthy Richard’s brain cancer diagnosis. So as we celebrate the turning of the year in the Celtic calendar, the change from the light time of year to the dark time, it occurs to me that the year is not so simple. It’s not just light and dark, summer and winter; nor is our existence as simple as life and death.

Life’s a cycle, and the part of the year when snow blankets the landscape and the days grow short is just as vital as the fertile time of longer days and wild growth. When the year goes quiet, life rests, recharges, and prepares for the next turning of the season. Once our lives were guided by that natural cycle of the year, and the rhythms of our days gave us a more generous kind of slowing down in winter. Now we press ourselves to go faster and do more, regardless of the season. It may be time to reclaim that hush, the unhurried pace, the breathing space that once came with the dark time of year. It may be that slowing down could yield the wisdom we need to walk forward into whatever lies ahead.