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the sameness of sheep

2017 September 27
by Rachel Turiel

Everything is happening with reassuring predictability. The goldfinches have returned, their bright yellow summer costumes already fading as if adhering to some stricture of fall fashion. The sunbathing vultures unfurl their wing-capes to the morning sun; their days here are numbered. Frost sneaks around the garden like a bandit in the night. Dan is a blur of bow-season comings and goings. (He recently left me with a bag of half eaten chocolate covered espresso beans, which is the exact right drug for solo-parenting).

A decade of similar September memories are lodged in my cells, released under the precise conditions of temporary fatherless children seeking a wrestling partner while I press tomatoes through the assembly line of roasted sauce. Outside it’s cold and then warm and then cold again, daily.

On another note – did you leave that metal pasta spoon (in above photo) at our house after a summer potluck? We are holding it safe for you, while apparently using it.

And yet, I am always blindsided by the melancholy of fall, the way walking through the orange glow of aspens fills me with both awe and a sense of grief. I don’t know, maybe it’s the heartbreaking truth of impermanence. Every day something succumbs.

This year, with the kids in school, I’ve had more time to explore this grief, some of which is due, no doubt, to transitioning out of my role as homeschooling parent; a whole family paradigm, slipped away. But, there’s more. There’s the micro-anguish: present work disappointments, coons nabbing our grapes, the kids orbiting ever farther from the sun of their home. And the macro: climate change, inequality, our cultural lust for the next distraction.

Last arctic gentian of 2017.Last sun-ripened colander of tomatoes, 2017

Christine King, teacher of nonviolent communication, says grief’s job is to drop you into the river of all souls – it asks us to be quiet and stop all forward movement.

I’m finding that grief can be this expressway connecting you both to universal human suffering, and the universal human generosity of spirit. When you’re in grief it’s very difficult to exist on the busy surface of life. And so, you’re plunged into a deeper undercurrent. It unseats any delusions that you will be spared the pain of loss and disappointment because of any wall you’ve erected of money, yoga, organic broccoli or goodness. Grief is a finger tapping you on the shoulder, reminding you that everything you hold dear will change.

And yet, in this raw and open state, small kindnesses become magnified and envelop you like a warm blanket. The morning onslaught of birds to your feeder feels like a holy avian party. Kneeling football players become unexpected heroes. Kate Braestrup, author and chaplain, says “you can trust a human being with grief, for grief is just love squaring up to its oldest enemy.”

And so, I’ve been quieter, taking more walks and less runs, talking less and listening more, feeling more, knowing less, and believing that you can trust a human being with grief. And yet, there is assurance in the predictability of cottonwoods flaring yellow, in the kids that need feeding, the basil that needs harvesting, and another season turning, showing us something inescapable and true.

“I love this nip in the morning air,” I told Dan back when September was young.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because it’s so new.”

Dan laughed, because for many people “new” means foreign travel, or remodeling your house, or something that creates a wave of excitement in the circulatory system of your life. On personality quizzes Dan and I both score embarrassingly low on novelty seeking behavior. Which may explain a lot, including why when I read this passage at the end of Charlotte’s Web to the kids recently, it brought tears to my eyes, happy tears.

“Life in the barn was very good – night and day, winter and summer, spring and fall, dull days and bright days. It was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, the glory of everything.”

And so as September fades out, we shuttle squash into the root cellar, whiz up batches of pesto, cover the tomatoes one more time, find another way to cook beets, make time to walk in the oakbrush as it turns from green to psychedelic to dust, and tend to our feelings, however they may present themselves.

Total winter squash count this year: 168.

13 Responses leave one →
  1. Amber Lena permalink
    September 27, 2017

    I love the way you narrate the changing of the seasons to me year after year. It’s a comfort to me. <3

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      September 27, 2017

      Thank you for *being* here year after year.

  2. Mollie permalink
    September 27, 2017

    I love that Kate Braestrup quote.

    • Mollie permalink
      September 27, 2017

      Makes loss seems not quite so scary.

  3. Vic permalink
    September 27, 2017

    Sounds true. beautiful and poignant!

  4. Michelle permalink
    September 27, 2017

    That passage from Charlotte’s Web always makes me tear up too!

  5. Lylah jarvis permalink
    September 27, 2017

    Thanks Rachel:) for all the years I was I Durango, and elsewhere where the seasons change more noticeably, I would always feel that grief come on too. Southern California kind of shields me from it, but at the same time I feel less of a necessary shedding happen there. Thank you for putting words to this connection we have between our hearts and our environment.

  6. Baba permalink
    September 28, 2017

    Beautifully written and lots of wisdom.
    “Tend to our feelings however they present themselves”
    And tend to our planet.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      September 28, 2017

      Yes. Absolutely. And somehow I think that if we did a better job tending to our emotions that we wouldn’t have wreaked such havoc on our planet.

  7. September 28, 2017

    So, so beautiful… Can we need a lot of change and the sameness of seasons at the same time? I know I do.

  8. Terry Howe permalink
    September 29, 2017

    Nice one! Life in the barn has been pretty good.

  9. October 1, 2017

    So many great lines here. Really appreciated your micro griefs. Beautifully shared.

  10. Ellie permalink
    October 1, 2017

    Rachel, I needed to read something deeply human tonight, caught up as I am in the daily grind of life here in the relentless Silicon Valley. So I looked in my spam folder, where I now know your posts get shuttled, and I found exactly what I was looking for. Thank you for this beautiful post.

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