Updated: Nov 26, 2019
Our breath now visible during morning chores; fallen leaves now flecked with silver crystals and outlined in frost. Tender annuals we've dispatched from seed packets to flats, transplanted into row-covered garden beds, hand-watered and weeded are now hit the hardest, drooping earthward, unceremoniously slouching toward an unknown state of being. On our walk to the stream, we hear the first icy crunch below our feet and feel a deep chill within. Off guard, caught in the first frost, which came at the start of November this year. Passage through this temporal milestone is always bittersweet. From this point it seems the winter before us will be tedious, will feel endless. But when we finally ascend from its most overwhelming depths, overpowering weight, and overbearing stillness, inevitably we will emerge nourished. With Autumn and the cold comes an inward shift. The big picture dissolves, the microcosm feels worthy of our focus, the subtle begins to demand our attention. The imbalances we have fostered throughout the growing season, whilst leveraging every sun-drenched hour to maximize productivity, finally seize this opportunity to be addressed, though it may be a daunting task attempting to disentangle the webs we've woven, tie up some loose ends, often prematurely, so that the greater cycle may commence again next year.
Mechanically speaking, November 7th is the mid-point between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice, a Cross-Quarter day that has been historically, across a multitude of cultures, associated with honoring familial ancestors and paying respect to the spirit world or realm of the dead. Experientially speaking, this is a time of the year when shifting energies across the landscape can offer revelatory clues about where we stand. Recently masked by shrouds of green leaves and draped in climbing vines, low lines of stacked stones, old foundations and paddocks, now reveal themselves as the season of earth and rock commences.
Some historical remnants are more obvious year round than others, though their origins and original functions may remain a mystery. We live by what is rumored to be an old blacksmith's shop, with stones still piled relatively high, burnt oak beams with hand hammered nails protruding from them, and a dilapidated well-house, hunched-over but still protecting a dry-stacked stone-lined well. We visit them often, and regarding them as relics, we try to stitch together a storyline which only the landscape knows in full. Pieces of the tapestry are shared with us from time to time...
Something about the angle of the sun and the settled-in blanket of fallen leaves draped over a patch of mountainside I've engaged with countless times... I'd previously interpreted this vignette as a rolling ridge- shifting from convex to concave, then back again- knowing by heart the gradient from sunbaked, rocky soil dotted with chestnut oak, to rich depositional humus under a canopy of white oak, black cherry and red maple. But today I was allowed to see past this uneven- aged stand of trees, as though peering through layers of time. A road cut across this ridge in a way so obvious to me now that I could not believe it remained invisible to me up until now. Carved out across the contours of the forested slope, I could now see the ditches placed here to divert the (now seasonal) spring and prevent the flowing water from washing out the switchback of this mountainside pass. Oddly bent tree limbs and a couple prominently-placed quartz-laden blocks of stone near the head of the spring were beginning to feel less coincidental, and more like clues to the historic significance of this place. But again, it's all open to interpretation, and limited to what the sun and stone are willing to reveal in this season of rock and earth.
There's a curious quarter acre between the outer edge of our homestead perimeter and the ruins we visit on occasion. In the Autumn months, this gentle slope catches light from the rising full moons, and an interesting visual phenomenon can be detected from our little outpost uphill when we look out over the landscape. The sensation is not easily described- intangible, though definitive enough for us to independently categorize it as a dancing, elemental form of energy, however impressionistic and peripheral. We respect its space and remain disinclined to investigate or inquire more deeply, simply noting the mysterious presence more frequently in the crisp air under the leafless trees of Fall and Winter. In British Isles' folklore, faerie rings are characterized by ancient mounds and stone ruins, often flanked by Hawthorne trees, all considered bridges between this and a more etheric realm. The low strangeness we have observed seems centered around a quintessentially liminal Black Locust tree- half living, half dead, as so many Black Locusts in our region tend to be- replete with cracked-cap polypores and wild grape climbing to it's highest limbs. A few paces to it's east, a Flowering Dogwood, stunted but which still dons beautifully eerie flowers in the spring in this overgrown, former pasture- now spotted, additionally, with Ailanthus and Multi-flora Rose. Suspecting some symbolic significance in this arrangement of plant species in this particular context, including what we perceive as our folkloric, bioregional analog to the hawthorn, the Black Locust- equally thorn-laden and keeping guard at the stone ruins- an area in our landscape we have been respectfully tending, though tentatively. Are these moving lights and shadows in the periphery of our vision the residual echos, cut into some stone-tape substrate by the emotions and lives of those who lived, loved and struggled on this land we now inhabit. Or did these energies precede said humans' lives, and did they as well observe the same subtle goings-on, on moonlit nights through Autumns across the ages.
Over the years we've been collecting clues about the natural history of this place- the geology, the plant and animal inhabitants, their collective health, and of course the water above and below us. The vernal springs that emerge with the heavy rains and snow-melt in the late Winter, and all the life-force (and homestead design potential) contained within them, inspires us from season to season, as we watch streams of water build up and roll over the Old Ridge Road, past the little Ramps patch we've started, through the Shiitake yard, over the woody berms we've installed to help slow, spread, and sink that flow a bit, and ultimately across the abandoned pasture, pooling up around the ruins and old hand-dug well. As a tribe, we've had a long-standing fascination with water. Our specific interests and motivations within this general exploration have evolved over the last decade, but water has achieved and sustained a sacred status in our lives. And here we find ourselves living on Wells Drive- we can only presume, named for the well we now get to visit and care for. But nothing is obvious around here. Nothing is immediately clear, and we've learned that clarity demands some engagement. Immersion within the layers and cycles of history by stitching a patch or two of our own onto the temporal quilt helps us feel more synchronized with the narrative already in commencement on this landscape, and we're honored to get to weave our own family's threads into the long and layered story unfolding here on the mountainside.+