October 25, 2012

Nature's Circle of Life and Death




 There is no season as poignant as autumn, carrying with its glorious color the feeling of sadness as leaves fall, plants die back, and birds depart. In his perfect poem, Robert Frost wrote that "Nothing Gold Can Stay". We are entwined in the cycles of green and gold, dawn and day, decay and renewal. Within the little death of autumn is the promise of spring's rebirth, a process the ancient Greeks personified in the goddess Persephone, who is both the queen of the underworld and the goddess of vegetation.




I have been watching this stump of a grand tree, one I think of as "the throne", over many years, as it sinks slowly into the ground, its disintegration adding nutrients to the forest soil.




The rounded forms of puffball mushrooms are gone, leaving behind the rich purple spores which will blow like a fine dust across the grass, a promise of spreading life.




At the cemetery where my father is buried, the graves of my grandparents tell a story of family and memory. It was strange and beautiful to see my own name on a memorial stone; I am honored to be named after my father's mother. I don't believe in either an afterlife or in reincarnation, but I know that we keep people alive in our hearts and minds. In his late novel, Death With Interruptions, Jos√© Saramago imagines a country in which death for humans has ceased. After the initial elation, the grim reality of the situation becomes evident. But death, in the end, is vanquished by love, and by art. We also carry within us what we've learned from our forebears. The most beautiful saying I heard last week was from the Mishnah, read by my brother in law as exemplary of my father's life: "Who is rich? he who is happy with his portion." If my way of being in the world is being satisfied, and taking pleasure in small things, it is something my father taught me, his most precious gift. 




Yesterday I saw this beautiful darner on my front door. It stayed remarkably still long enough for me to take several pictures of it. When I posted the photo on facebook, I got several comments from friends telling me that visits from dragonflies were auspicious. This, from David Forlano, especially touched me:
It is a common thing that the animals and insects and even blooming flowers out of season are a visit from a recent lost loved one. 
My pragmatic nature makes me want to doubt this, but I have never seen this particular insect before, and I had another uncanny experience after my father's death, making me believe that life and death are more of a mystery than I could ever have imagined.

6 comments:

  1. I loved reading this Altoon, the back and forth between images and words - so much feeling and wisdom in it.

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    1. Thanks so much, rappel; it's good to know I'm not being overly sentimental.

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  2. Ten years ago Sept 21, early in the morning my mother passed away as I was holding her hand at Hospice.... I went with a friend to a local breakfast haunt and the air was alive. One of the wait staff dropped a whole container of silverware and a few minutes later a gentleman inadvertantly knocked over his chair, someone elses coat and hat fell off a hook at the end of a booth and our waitress brought me a saucer of those little half and half containers and as she was setting them down they all went awry scattering across our table as she apologized profusley....My mother was a scrapper and I laughed knowing she was saying goodbye setting the resturaunt topsy-turvy and making hay.

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    1. What a wonderful story, Steven; I'm sure your mother was there laughing too.

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  3. I'm a little behind and just saw this Cycle of Life entry now.I found a lot of wisdom here and solace for my own losses. My condolences, Altoon.

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