Where we are in time and space: Today we’ve hit the mid-way point of September, a month that, to me, is all about settling back into the rhythm of our lives after the long-march of the summer scatter. I’m starting to feel my feet more on the ground and my mind more focused than it’s been since Summer hit in earnest 3 months ago. In the Northern Hemisphere, the balance of our year will tip towards darkness in just over a week, and yet we still have the amazing autumn months that seem to be everyone’s favorites no matter where you live. There’s a pull inward, and yet there is still so much warmth and beautiful light, we stay out just a little longer, as if we are children who’ve already been called in for dinner once and can’t seem to stop while there is still even a hint of light.
About 10 years ago, an odd series of thoughts led me to a book that was all the rage when I was growing up, but I was too young then to read it or appreciate it. The book (which over time became a series of books) was called Foxfire, and it was born of a quarterly magazine created by a group of high school students and their teacher in Georgia in 1966. It was an exercise in gathering the oral history of their elders as old ways of life were quickly fading. Foxfire celebrated the home life, seasonal living, and storytelling traditions of Appalachia.
I grew up in a university city in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, near the Appalachian range, which runs from Newfoundland to Alabama, though we primarily think of their expression in Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Georgia. The mountains there are soft and rolling, and the seasons—at least during my upbringing, though I fear with human-induced climate change that has likely changed—were distinct and clear cut.
My great grandparents on my father’s side were mountain farmers who lived and farmed in the Cumberland Mountains in the southeastern section of the Appalachian chain. I remember as a very young child driving what seemed an incredible distance every so often to visit their farm. I remember they had an outhouse, which was thrilling to a pre-schooler. My great grandfather wore “overhauls” and my great grandmother wore calico printed dresses with a full apron, work boots, and a bonnet on top. It was like Little House on the Prairie! Mammaw wore her long hair, which was gray with auburn streaks, braided and in a neat bun. The farmed tobacco, grew their own food, and kept bees. I remember, in particular, how they spoke in what I later learned was old English. Appalachia and the southern mountain ranges were really the last part of the country to have television in the household. They were cloistered and with no outer influence via network television, they spoke as their ancestors had. They said “thee,” “thy,” thou,” “ye,” and “yon.”
When I discovered Foxfire, it was like discovering my great grandparents and their way of life—an incredible gift. I learned about the tradition of planting by the moon, and, in fact, using the moon for all manner of things from planting above ground crops (waxing moon) to below ground crops (waning) to cutting your hair for more growth while the moon waxed and for less growth while it waned. I was fascinated and started paying more attention to the cycles of the moon and the seasons than I had before. Perhaps, because I had moved to Northern California, which natives will tell you has seasons, which of course is true, they are just . . . subtle . . . I had a yearning for a seasonal rhythm that I had not even realized I was deeply connected to until I moved to the Golden State. Paying attention felt right in my cells, and I knew that it was more than just me, but all of us who must be yearning for something known that had been lost.
In 2008, during an October trip to New Mexico, I made a conscious decision to begin living my life more based on the earth wisdom and natural cycles that my ancestors (all of our ancestors!) had moved with. Trust me, I’m not someone who is interested in turning back the clock to some silly idea that long-ago and far-away was better. (We may be battling superbugs that have adapted to antibiotics, but, really, it’s just silly to think that we were better off without them, and if you aren’t sure about that, you wouldn’t have to go far back in your own family’s history to find the child that died from something ridiculous to us now.) So, what is it to follow the Old Ways in 21st century California?
When I say “the Old Ways,” I’m talking about realizing that our lives have rhythms and cycles. They ebb and flow. There are outward periods and inward periods. There are times more conducive to growing and more conducive to releasing and everything in between. Time is a circle, not a line. Problem is, our modern life doesn’t acknowledge it whatsoever. We can have daylight at any time of day, 72 degree heat in winter and 68 degree air conditioning in summer. We can eat tomatoes from California or Mexico all year round, and even my beloved autumn persimmons can be procured from the Southern Hemisphere in the spring if I so desire.
We’ve lost our connection to nature—our own nature and the nature around us.
The good news is: it’s actually a pretty easy fix—start paying attention. Watch the moon. Feel the subtle shift of the season before it’s outwardly obvious because you are spending time outside every single day. Yes—eat local and in season, and if you live in Maine where local and in season looks different than in California, maybe consider learning to “put up” the bounty of the summer. Use the dark half of the year to do projects that are more inward. Honestly, it’s not that hard. We are wired for this. We just forgot.
I had forgotten, and I’m still learning.. And, what I’m finding since embarking on this path 10 years ago casually, 6 years ago actively, and late this spring formally—it is such a rich way of engaging in the world. At first, to be honest, so much feels impossible, counter-intuitive, because at this point, we’ve grown up outside of this rhythm. But, you see, your DNA is old and wise. It knows the Old Ways. I’m not a farmer, nor much of a gardener, but I follow the cycles across the wheel of the year in the rhythms of my life and day. Some projects are better suited to June than January. And when nature speeds up or slows down, and I’m attuned to that, I actually live and work at optimal amounts of ease and effort. I more readily delight and adapt to change.
Following the cycles of nature and her seasons is something we should all be able to agree upon regardless of religion or political persuasion, and the fact that we can’t, is the very proof of how far off we’ve gotten. We may have screwed a lot up. That’s a fact. But, I really do believe that a lot more than we realize could actually be solved by paying attention to our own nature and to nature itself, because they are one and the same. My by-the-moon planting great-grandparents were down-home, red-state, backwoods Christians. Your Jewish grandparents were (and are) following the moon for Rosh Hashanna, Sukkot, and Passover. Stepping into this flow doesn’t need a label, though there are words people use to describe themselves or others who do it. If you need a label for this, here’s a suggestion: call it being a Human Being.
I’m a human who is finding her human-ness reflected in the seasons.
I’m a woman finding her womanliness reflected in the moon.