Michaelmas

Photo by Mark Twyning

September 29 is the feast day of St. Michael and all the Angels, the most ancient of all the angel festivals. From fairly early on, Michaelmas was an important holiday, the religious or Christian equivalent of the autumn equinox. Just as spring equinox was associated with another Archangel (Gabriel) and a fixed date (March 25), so did the Archangel Micheal’s holiday become a fixed date to celebrate the harvest holiday of autumn equinox.

Michael is one of my favorite saints, especially in his role as a protector. When I was worried about my adolescent daughter, I asked Michael to protect her and promised a pilgrimage to one of his traditional sites of worship. I was hoping to get to Mont St. Michel but made due with a walk up to the top of Skirrid Fawr in the Brecon Beacons where there was a ruined chapel to St. Michael.  Most churches to St. Michael are on the top of mountains, like this handsome church on an island off the coast of Cornwall.

In England, Michaelmas was considered the start of a new quarter. It marked the start of a new business year, a time for electing officials, making contracts, paying rent, hiring servants, holding court and starting school. Obviously we still see the remnants of this in the timing of our elections and school year.

This is also a time when the weather is known to change. In Italy, they say “For St. Michael, heat goes into the heavens.” In Ireland, people expect a marked decrease in sickness or disease. Barolini records a nursery rhyme about hours of sleep:

Nature requires five,
Custom gives seven,
Laziness takes nine
And Michaelmas eleven.

As early as 1014, the laws of Ethelred in England prescribed a three day fast for all Christians before the feast. Servants weren’t allowed to work during these days. Michaelmas was a time when rents were due, and rents were often paid in food. The traditional rent for Michaelmas was a goose.

Eating something rich like goose at this turning point of the year brings good luck. In Nottingham they say “If you eat roast goose on Michaelmas day, you will never want money all year.” In Norfolk, they say, “if you don’t baste the goose on Michaelmas Day, you will want money all year.” In Italy, where this is clearly considered a harvest festival, they say “For St. Michael all the last fruits of the year are honeyed and ripe.”

The celebration of Michaelmas in Scottish highlands and islands clearly shows that this was the occasion for a ritual thanksgiving for the abundance of harvest. An unblemished ram lamb called the Michael Lamb was killed on the eve of the feast to be served as the main course. Women made special cakes called struan Michael or Michaelmas cakes, from equal parts of all types of grain grown on the farm, kneaded with butter, eggs and sheep’s milk, marked with a cross and cooked on a stone heated by a fire of sacred oak, rowan and bramble wood. A piece of the cake was thrown into the fire as a tithe to St. Michael’s opponent, the Devil. Other cakes were made for special people, for the family and for the community. Cranberries, bilberries, brambleberries, caraway seeds and wild honey were baked into the cakes. Clearly part of the purpose of this charm was to take the bounty of the farm’s harvest and use it to fashion an offering of thanks. In a similar gesture, people in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire scattered grain for the wild birds to bring good luck to the farm.

From this Waldorf site

Ginger was also a traditional flavor enjoyed at Michaelmas in the form of gingerbread. I love the playfulness of these little dragon breads which I found at a Waldorf site. They are made from bread dough, shaped like dragons, and decorated with almonds and raisins.

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A Harvest Loaf

by Kate May-Price

The colors grow richer in these early fall days – even here in San Francisco, though it pales in the shadow of upstate New York’s autumnal fires. I can still sense the natural rhythm as the weather blows the golden grains on our California hills.

It is harvest time, but nowadays it can be hard to see the relevance of ensuring the winter stores. Traditionally, this was a time for reaping grains and preserving the fruits of summer. Some of us continue this work, but many of us do not.

There is however much more than seasonal harvest nostalgia, many of us are looking for a return to the lessons learned from traditional or indigenous diets. Let us then look to Jessica Prentice’s book “Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection.”

True to their personification, squirrels are clever – burying each acorn fools it into thinking its been “planted.” While the squirrel continues its gathering, the buried nut begins to release nutrients that are key to a germinating plant. In the spirit of coevolution,  these nutrients are exactly what is nutritionally required by the squirrel if it hopes to survive the barrenness of winter.

We can mimic this – increasing available nutrients – through the process of sprouting or fermenting grains. The recipe – without further ado.

From the “Full Moon Feast” book –

Sourdough:

Take 1 tablespoon of sourdough starter and mix it together with ½ cup filtered water and 1 cup freshly ground whole wheat (or spelt) flour in a clean jar. Let this sit for 8 hours at room temperature or between 48 hours and 1 week in the refrigerator before using in the recipe.  You can use it at room temperature, or cold.  Each time you cook with your sourdough, reserve 1 tablespoon of starter, mix with ½ cup of water plus 1 cup of flour, and store in the fridge for the next recipe. You can keep your starter going indefinitely this way.  Mine is about 15 years old.

 

The best way to get a good sourdough starter is from a friends or an artisanal bakery…The great thing about a real sourdough starter is that it is made up of wild yeasts – that’s what you want.  Try G.E.M. Cultures for sourdough as well.

 

You can also make your own starter.  Our hands have natural yeasts on them, so if we add the water, the flour and “get into the mix,” we have starter unique to ourselves. For more specific information, check out the new book, “The Lost Art of Real Cooking: Rediscovering the pleasures of Traditional Food One Recipe at a Time” by the Bay area’s own Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger.

“May we feel wonder for the gift of grain, which through dying is born again, or else gives its life to us.”

Kate is an educator, artist, gardener, and cook carrying on her family’s culinary history by following her nose. She currently resides in the San Francisco Bay area. Her web site is called Pen, Trowel and Fork.

Portions of this article reprinted from Full Moon Feast, ©2006 by Jessica Prentice, with permission from Chelsea Green Publishing (www.chelseagreen.com). All of the photos are courtesy of Kate May-Price. First published August 29, 2010.

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Autumn Equinox

Like its sister equinox, halfway across the Wheel of the Year, the Autumn Equinox is a good occasion for a ritual feast. Decorate the table with colorful autumn leaves in a basket. Display the fruits of the harvest – corn, gourds, nuts, grapes, apples – preferably in a cornucopia (a horn of plenty). Or decorate with wildflowers, acorns, nuts, berries, cocoons, anything that represents the harvest to you.

Plan a meal that uses seasonal and symbolic fruits and vegetables. You can serve bread, squash, corn, apples, cider and wine. Drawing on the imagery of the Eleusinian Mysteries, hold up an ear of corn in silence. Or cut open a pomegranate and feed each other the seeds.

The following poem (used by Starhawk in the equinox ritual in

www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)

) comes from Mother Goose. Use this or make up your own variation as a grace. Have everyone at the feast repeat this, adding their own thanks:

We have sown, we have tended
We have grown, we have gathered
We have reaped a good harvest
Lady, we thank you for your gifts
Lord, we thank you for your bounty
I thank you for [fill in yourself].

Giving Thanks
Give thanks to the Goddess for the gifts you’ve received this year. You might want to make a list of your gifts or find objects to represent them. Consider how you can make your offering to her. You can represent your thanks symbolically (tying a ribbon on a tree branch or pouring some wine on the ground) or directly (by making a stronger commitment to recycling or scattering seed for the birds). If you buy (or make) a basket to use while shopping, you’ll be purchasing a symbol of Demeter and helping save the lives of her trees at the same time.

balanceCreating Balance
Use this time of balance, to look closely at the balance in our life. How do you balance your personal needs with your commitments to the outside world? How do you receive and how do you give? You might want to reflect on this in your journal or make it concrete by putting objects on a scale. For everything which represents one side of the scale to you (for instance, a book representing quiet time alone), place something on the other side which represents its opposite (a letter or phone for reaching out to friends).

Learning and Creating
For those of us who spend time in or around schools (as teachers, students or the parents of school-age children), this is not a time of ending but of beginning. We are just starting to get back into the rhythm of the school year. We may feel sad that the playfulness and freedom of summer are disappearing as we fall back into our fall routines and structures but we also have more focus and direction.

This is a good time to begin new projects. As the nights lengthen, you have more time to be alone, to concentrate, to nurture a seed which may not blossom until spring. Give yourself permissions to try something absolutely new. Take a class that teaches you how to do something you’ve always wanted to do–maybe basket-making Call your local college and ask about community education classes.

In Starhawk’s Autumn Equinox ritual, there is a time for weaving seed pods, shells, feathers and small pine cones into strands of yarn while thinking of what you want to create in your life. This or some variation of it would make a wonderful group activity or family project. You could also just set aside a certain amount of time (an evening, a Saturday) which is creative time, for you to make anything you want.

Source
Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, Harper San Francisco 1983

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Making a Corn Dolly

By Jo Sullivan

When the last fall grain harvest was gathered in, ancient farmers in Europe (from England to the Baltics) always kept a few sheaves aside to be woven into “corn dollies,” shapes and figures thought to manifest the spirit of grain. Called the corn mother in Northern Europe, the hag in Ireland, and the corn maiden in parts of England, the spirit inhabited the fertile fields, and once the grain was harvested, needed a place to dwell until replanting time in the spring. Those final sheaves kept her spirit alive through the fallow winter.

Despite their name (corn evolved from ‘kern,’ the old English word for grain, and “dolly” is thought to have evolved from “idol”), corn dollies weren’t made of corn and didn’t always resemble the human form. More often, they were interpreted as circles, hearts, loops, goats, and stars that could be displayed in the home during the dormant winter, then plowed back into the earth in spring. When modern mechanical threshers came into use, the art of making corn dollies was almost lost. But in the past few decades, it has experienced a revival, usually under the name of wheat weavings,

Waverly published an article about wheat weaving in this magazine last year. You can also interpret the spirit of the grain in your own way. We chose to make ours look a bit like a proud, wild goddess with a head and hands of seedheads and a corn husk dress. This style is easy to make with older children, although an adult should be present for wire cutting.

Start with a four-ounce bundle of wheat and cut the seedheads off, leaving a little of the stalk intact for a base. Separate the taller seedheads from the shorter ones, then make two piles of short ones for the hands and one pile of big ones for the head. Wire the seedheads into bundles with 22 to 24-gauge wire.

Soak the long stalks for a few hours so that they’re pliable, then cut two piles of stalks: one for the body and one for the arms. Bind off each pile at each end, then wire the ‘hands’ to the end of the arms, the ‘head’ to the top of the body, and the arms to  the body. Hide the wire under raffia. Cut a piece of paper and secure into a cone shape. Anchor body in the cone either by poking wire through the paper and wrapping it around the body stalk or any other method that works for you. Now you can make the dress. We used corn husks and pinned them to the paper cone. This is just one simple way to make a corn dolly without being skilled at wheat weaving. Even without those skills, my daughter and I felt like we were taking part in an ancient tradition as we made our dolly.

Joanne O’Sullivan writes about art, culture, and traveling with kids from her home in Asheville, North Carolina. She can be reached through her blog, the Wanderlists.

Photo taken by Jo Sullivan: a corn dolly in front of a chocolate cosmos. First published August 29, 2010.

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St Partridge

Well, this is friendship! What on earth brings you here, old fellow? Why aren’t you in the stubble celebrating St Partridge?
From Robert Elsmere by Mrs Humphry Ward, 1888greypartridge_tcm9-17615

St Partridge is another one of those mythical saints, like St Distaff (see January), whose names mark a holiday, in this case, the opening of partridge hunting season in England, which continues until February 1st. The quotation above implies that partridge season begins after the harvest is in and the hunters can cross the fields without damaging the grain.

Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

The illustration of a gray partridge comes from the web site for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds which surely would not approve of hunting them as they are in danger of extinction in the U.K.

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Preserving Summer Herbs

by Erin Fossett

September is a month of changes. When our lives were bound more closely to the land, it was a time of hope, and celebration of the harvest. It was also a busy season, as farmers worked feverishly to bring in their crops before the first freeze. There was a feeling of abundance, but also of transition, of letting go.  We still feel it, watching the change of the seasons. The days continue to shorten, leaves change colors, and even in the glory of Indian summer the nights take on a chill. In our own gardens, the plants that we nurtured so carefully for months are now going to seed, losing their summertime glory. Soon it will be time to clip away the old growth and turn the soil over, preparing the ground for winter.

One way to celebrate the energy of September is to preserve the flavors and scents of summer through herbal teas, vinegars, flavored oils, and honeys. Whether you have a full garden, a kitchen window box, or buy your herbs dried and in bulk, these creations are fun and relatively simple to make, and offer another way to share seasonal bounty with your friends. (For buying dried herbs in bulk, as well as herbal making supplies, visit Mountain Rose Herbals.)

 

Herbal Iced Tea Cubes. In September, I try to make daily batches of strong herbal tea, using the last of my chamomile, lemon balm, peppermint, and catnip. I let the tea steep for up to eight hours, and then pour into ice cube trays and freeze. The finished ice cubes will store in freezer bags for up to three months, and can be added to smoothies, or melted and diluted with hot water for a refreshing cup of herbal tea.

Ice cube trays are also handy for freezing big batches of fresh tomato sauce or pesto, using the last basil from your garden. Let the sauce cool thoroughly before freezing, and store the frozen cubes in freezer bags for up three months, thawing as needed.

 

Herb Infused Vinegars. Herbal vinegars make a flavorful addition to salad dressings and dips, as well as a nourishing daily tonic to help strengthen the blood or tone the digestive system. Good herbs to use in your vinegars include garlic, basil, oregano, thyme, tarragon, and sage. Experiment with combinations. Pairings of dill and peppermint, or fennel and ginger, are wonderful for upset stomachs.

Place about a cup of finely chopped fresh herbs (or ¼ cup of dried herbs) into clean pint-sized glass canning jars. Cover the herbs with organic apple cider vinegar, leaving about an inch of room at the top of the jar. (Avoid white vinegar, which is bleached with harsh chemicals.) Cover the jar tightly, label with the ingredients and date, and then store the mixture in a dark place at room temperature, shaking vigorously every few days.

After about four to six weeks, strain out the vinegar by pouring it through a colander lined with a doubled piece of cheesecloth or an old sheet. Be sure to squeeze out all of the infused liquid from the plant material before composting. Store the mixture in glass jars or tincture bottles, carefully marked with the ingredients and date. The finished vinegar will keep for a year.

Herbal Oils. You can also use herbs to make flavored olive oils, for both internal and external uses. In this case, place 1/3 cup of already dried plant materials in a clean, dry glass jar. (Make certain the jar is completely dry, as any moisture can ruin the oil.) Cover the herbs with high quality, organic olive oil, leaving an inch or two of room at the top of the jar. Cover this mixture with a cloth for the first few days, before you seal the lid, as the plants will continue to expel gasses as they absorb the oil. Also be sure to check the mixture after a few hours to see if more oil is needed to cover the herbs.

Let the oil sit in a sunny window for 10 to 14 days, shaking daily, before straining the plant material out. Store the finished oil in a dark place, and use within a year. You might want to try garlic, oregano, or basil for use in cooking or dressings. I also like to make a mixture of calendula blossoms, lavender, and plantain for a wonderful skin conditioner.

NOTE: An easy way to dry herbs is to scatter them across an old window screen outside or in a sunny window, or hang bunches upside down until the blossoms dry and can be extracted.

Herb Infused Honey. Herbal honeys provide a wonderful addition to hot teas during the winter cold season. To make these, melt a quart of locally grown (if available) wildflower honey over low heat until it is just warmed through. (Don’t let it boil.) Add ½ cup of finely chopped fresh herbs, such as lavender, ginger, lemon balm, or chamomile. (Use only ¼ cup if the herbs are dried.) Leave the mixture on low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then pour the honey (without straining) into heat-resistant glass canning jars. Secure the lids and label with the ingredients and date. The herbs will continue to infuse the honey as it sits. You can then either strain out the honey as you use it, or drink the tea with the herbs still in it. The honey will keep for 18 months.

Erin Fossett is a freelance fiction writer and editor living in Colorado. Her fiction has been awarded by the Colorado Council on the Arts. She provides writing coaching and editing services through wild Word Writing and can be reached at wildwordmedia AT msn DOT com.

All photos taken by Erin Fossett.

First published August 29, 2010

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Weaving Wheat

by Waverly Fitzgerald

[Excerpt from the Lammas holiday packet available at our store]

Many years ago I was in Aberystwyth in Wales on Lammas. I hadn’t planned any special activity for this, my favorite seasonal holiday, but I had gleaned some wheat stalks a few weeks earlier from a field near Rose Cottage (the home of my favorite novelist, Elizabeth Goudge, who lived outside Henley-on-Thames).

That primitive wheat weaving came back across the ocean to Seattle and for over a year sat above my stove, my very own harvest spirit, blessing the food I prepared and ate, while reminding me of my pilgrimages in the British Isles.

I didn’t have any instructions for wheat-weaving with me. All I remembered was that I had to soak the wheat, which I did in a bathtub, releasing that wonderful nutty aroma from the stalks. Then I wove it into a simple plait which I tied in a loop with a strand of orange yarn. That primitive wheat weaving came back across the ocean to Seattle and for over a year sat above my stove, my very own harvest spirit, blessing the food I prepared and ate, while reminding me of my pilgrimages in the British Isles.

In earlier times in England, the last sheaf of wheat was cut down with special pomp and ceremony and carried into the house where it was displayed throughout the winter, being returned to the soil when the fields were ploughed in spring. Sometimes the spirit of the grain was invited to inhabit weavings made of wheat stalks interlaced in intricate patterns. These were often called corn dollies, corn being a word for grain and dolly describing the shape.

To make your own wheat weavings, you must first obtain wheat, either from a craft supply store or a field (I have friends who grow a small patch in their garden for harvesting at Lammas and using in wheat-weaving and bread-baking). The excursion to get the wheat could become a part of your holiday rituals. I will never forget my first sight of wheat fields, driving one Fourth of July weekend with my daughter through the wheat country of eastern Washington. For miles and miles as far as the eye could see, for hours we drove among the silent rolling hills of golden wheat.

Maggie Oster in Gifts and Crafts from Your Garden says that wheat for wheat-weaving should be harvested about two weeks before the regular harvest when it is in the “dough stage.” Test it by pinching one of the grains with your thumbnail. If it releases a milky say, it is too green. If it is hard, it is too ripe. It should puncture easily but no sap should appear. Cut the wheat about four or six inches above the soil and bundle in sheaves about four to six inches in diameter. Keeping all the heads of wheat in one direction, bind near the bottom of the stalk and either hang them up or stack them for two weeks.

Wheat weavings were often hung on walls, not just as decorations but as protection, like the charms made in the Scottish Highlands on Lammas by tying red strings around crossed rowan-twigs and hanging them over doors.

Wheat weavings were often hung on walls, not just as decorations but as protection, like the charms made in the Scottish Highlands on Lammas by tying red strings around crossed rowan-twigs and hanging them over doors. In Wales, wheat weaving has become a traditional art form, divorced from harvest customs. Everywhere I went in Wales, I saw beautiful and elaborate wheat weavings for sale. You may be able to find someone in your area who can teach you this traditional art. Like many women’s arts, it’s hard to describe on paper–it cries out for one-to-one instruction and a kinesthetic experience.

Prepare the wheat by cutting off and discarding the second-joint straw and removing the leaf-sheaf. Soak them in warm water for at least 30 minutes. Then drain and wrap in a damp towel so they will stay moist.

Witch’s Mark or Cat’s Paw

The first set of instructions come from Helen Farias’ unpublished book, The Harvest Mysteries. This creates a long flat braid.

Tie three straws together, just below the heads with stout thread (Helen suggests buttonhole twist). Fan them out into north, east and west positions with the heads to the south. Fold the east (right) straw under the north (top) straw just before you fold the north straw over the east straw–in other words, they trade places. Then fold the west (left) straw under the north straw, just before folding the north straw over the west straw–again they trade places. Repeat.

As you work, you may wish to stretch the braid slightly. With your left thumb and forefinger (if you are right-handed) firmly hold the weaving, and move your grip up the weaving as it grows. Stop a few inches from the end and tie off.

Four Straw Plait or North, South, East, West Plait

This creates a plait with a bit more dimension. Tie four straws together under the heads. Hold the heads down (towards the floor) with your left thumb and forefinger, keeping your palm upward. Fan the four straws out in the four directions.

With your right hand (if you’re right-handed), fold the south straw to the north and the north to the south. Put your thumb across the fold. Fold the east straw to the west and the west straw to the east. Secure with your thumb. Repeat, moving your grip slowly upwards as the weaving grows, stretching it when necessary, holding it securely with your thumb. Stop a few inches from the end and tie off.

Shaping the Weaving

These braids can now be twisted into various shapes.

The simplest is a simple loop. Tie the end to the to the neck of the heads and either fan the straw ends out, snipping them at an angle, or hide them behind the heads.

Or loop the braid twice and overlap the loop, creating a vesica pisces or almond shape in the center.

Or make three concentric loops for a miniature “dolly” (with the loops as the head, the sheaves as the skirted body).

Secure the ends again, straighten the weaving and pat it until it is even and pleasing. Mist it once or twice, if it’s dried out, and place under a brick, heavy book (protected with plastic) or some other flat weight. When it has dried, decorate as you like. The traditional decoration is a red ribbon.

Mordiford Wheat Weaving

If you are now ready for a more complicated wheat weaving, try this heart-shaped “corn dolly” associated with the Mordiford district in England. I found directions for it and a picture at www.wheatweaving.com.

References:

Campanelli, Pauline, Ancient Ways, Llewellyn 1991
Farias, Helen, The Harvest Mysteries, 1990, unpublished [copy in my collection] Oster, Maggie, Gifts and Crafts from the Garden, Rodale 1988

Web Links:

American Museum of Straw Art

At this web site, you can take a virtual tour of woven straw art. It’s just like walking through a museum. Great photos and informative captions. I came away with a new appreciation of the marvelous capabilities of woven grain and the spiritual dimensions of this art.

World Wide Wheat Weavers

This association sponsors a web site that features photos of wheat weavings created by members and information on where to buy grains, find classes and buy books on the topic.

Originally published July 20, 2009

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Mid-August, New York

The old Celtic and Gaelic calendars marked the beginning of autumn at August 1st, and here in farm country that makes a great deal of sense.  While spring has a feeling of galloping joy and summer a tone of happy waiting, now there is a small but noticeable tension.  It’s time to start thinking about the approaching winter – the countdown has begun.

The first cutting of hay is in and the second underway, tree fruits are in or waiting, fields and vegetable gardens are bursting with ripening crops.  Even if crops aren’t ready yet, a practiced eye can see what the yield will be, and there’s no more time for adjustments: we’ll get what we get, and any changes will have to be made next year.  Stores are full of canning supplies; man and beast alike are stashing away the bounty.

Looking down over the swamp (we prefer the term “wetlands”), where a month ago it was pink and blue with wild phlox, cornflowers and mallows, now it’s the deep rose of Joe Pye Weed and milkweed, with fluffy white Queen Anne’s Lace and touches of early goldenrod.

The flower beds have hit a lull, with only echinacea (thank goodness for all the new varieties!), Phlox “David” and “Bright Eyes” and a few lingering daylilies still in bloom.  Mums haven’t cracked color yet.  The summer annuals are still in bloom, but are starting to look a little tired – time to gather seeds for next year and make notes in the garden journal.

The birds aren’t as full of conversation as a month ago, now that the babies are fledged, but crickets, grasshoppers, humming bees and a few cicadas are heard during the day, and the full chorus of katydids at night.  Still a few frog voices, but not as many.  I haven’t seen any monarch caterpillars on the milkweed yet, but they should be along any day now.

The skies darken earlier, of course, and are more likely to be free of haze.  We’ll be watching for shooting stars around the 15th!

Karen Albeck is an amateur naturalist and natural journal-keeper who watches for Signs of the Season in central New York state.

Photos were provided by Karen Albeck.

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The Autumn of Life

by Edia Stanford-Bruce

The year I turned 40, I disappeared.

It had been coming on gradually, this “fading,” but I waved it away as the mere product of an over-active imagination or peri-menopausal anxiety. The atmosphere in several areas of my life was shot through with an unsettling chilliness and the earth seemed to be holding her breath; waiting for something.  Then, one night, frost hit. The next day, I was “middle aged.”

I began to notice magazine covers in bookstore racks. There were articles about how to be a sexy lover; how to be a beautiful bride; how to be a happy mom-to-be; how to be a good mom, how to pay for college and then, that was it. There was no sign life existed after 35.

I would pick through the mall attempting to dress a body that was betraying me, not shedding the creeping weight gain, shoving me toward the women’s sizes.  “My size” clothes were now located deep in the innards of stores hidden well away from the “career” misses and miles away from the uber-trendy petites on the highly visible outer aisles. Clothes after 35 were cheaply made, boring colored and fashion null. The personnel in my favorite stores began to ignore me and I sought solace in new boutiques especially for “my size”.

The changes growing older brought frightened me. Every year something that to my mind affirmed my identity as a woman, as a mother, as a productive member of society, dropped away. I shriveled inside like leaves denied the summer sun. At the point I thought that there was no more purpose for living and no more reason to expect anything but to blow away, I turned 50.

My gardens and all the earth became my professors. I began to listen and examine closely the lessons about living they were teaching. The first, most important lesson is that each season has its own specific work. Autumn is the season of harvests. The work of autumn is to gather in– whether for dinner, for preserving, or for next year’s seed. So, with same the purposeful energy that I harvested my peppers and tomatoes from the gardens I gathered in the produce my soul grew in the summertime of my life.

At 40 I was examining the early fruit harvest of my poison beds (habitual negative thought) — lack of self esteem and depression. However, by 50 I had learned that there were several more harvests to come before the killing frost that signals the beginning of winter. Now was the time of the fruit harvest of the more prosperous intellectual groves of beautifully ripe love for art, literature and spirituality. Not only that, the grain harvest of the second career 30’s and 40’s was standing in the field, ready for the scythe. That meant the half-century mark of my life was no time to mourn the passing of life’s summer. There was still work to do.

Most mind bending of all, I discovered an “interim” planting time—a time to sow the seed of a third career. Then I really began to appreciate the benefits of the season when the oppressive heat cools into twilight glow. The invisibility of the autumn woman came as a surprising blessing. The pressure was off to be pretty, perky and cute. People would carry home my words like prized cuttings because I was now someone who would be seriously listened to. Some of “Mami’s wisdom” gained from living would be preserved, not in Mason jars, but in scrapbooks and the memories of those who heard the stories.

This was not a time to categorize myself as “lost potential.” It was not a time to envy the energy, smooth skin, and toned muscles of youth. I began to notice more positive—even sexy– images of autumn women boldly looking out at me from magazine stands and more stylish clothing in stores as I turned 56 last month. However, there is still resistance to full acceptance and understanding of the seasons of adulthood after summer. I disappeared as a customer to the media and businesses that pandered to the youth market. Yet because of this, I entered a new season of freedom where I did not have to cater to images of how I should look or behave. There indeed was life—a new adventure– after 35. I embraced the crone and danced into the autumn life.

Edia Stanford-Bruce is a freelance writer and the Vice President for Public Relations, Booz-Allen Hamilton Toastmasters Club in Tyson’s Corner, VA. She earned the BA from Norfolk State University School of Journalism and also holds a M.Ed. in early childhood education from Rutgers University, specializing in literacy. Currently, she volunteers with Reston Interfaith as an administrative assistant supporting Stonegate Village Residents Services Office in Reston, VA. She and husband, retired pastor Rev. Dr. George Bruce, are happily empty-nesting in Reston’s Historic Lake Anne neighborhood. Her commentary about searching for work in the second half of life, “Victoree’s Blog: No White Flag”, is available on wordpress.com.

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