Pippin follows me from room to room some mornings when I open windows to let the cool fall air blow in. He is a little puzzled about where Eleanor has taken most of her shoes, and why Walker has left behind a perfectly good bed. He’s a little scared of the crunchy leaves blowing around on the deck, and sticks close to me, even though he is now master of the secret of the cat door (the secret is you have to push with your head). I have so far failed to teach him, as I taught his four predecessors, that cats should not climb onto the dining room table. He is sprawled there now, behind the laptop, watching me type.
The last weekend in September is “family weekend” at Grinnell, and it was always a lovely time of year to drive west, sunny with yellow and gold fields and the harvest just beginning. We went to the Ohio Renaissance Festival this weekend instead, driving a couple of hours south towards Cincinnati in the morning and coming back the same night, which was cloudy with the rumor of a lunar eclipse.
I’m preparing to cover things up and bring them in. On the deck, the outside furniture makes me sing “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” from Les Miserables every time I go out there. Geese fly over the house, wheeling their V in all directions. The late summer wasps are distracted from the red berries in the yard when I step outside with anything to drink in my hand. The light is every day lower, less bright, less warm.
I am trying to think of this place, this spot of ground I have watched so closely for decades, as the place I’ve staked a claim, like the pioneer-sounding narrator of Wendell Berry’s poem Wild Geese:
Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s maze
over the fall fields, we name names
that went west from here,
names that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.
I like the idea that effort is required to be able to believe that “what we need is here.” That even though the sapling we planted on “Earth Day” when the kids were small has grown old and brittle, parts of it broken off by storms, it still roots us to this place. That although some of the people who were here to greet us when we arrived have grown old and some of them are gone, that we will always be arrested by our memories of them when, for instance, passing the croquet court built by John Crowe Ransom, where we once played croquet with his daughter and granddaughter–one gone now, one running for mayor next month.
If what we need is here we have to make it stretch far enough, not for some diminished, autumnal life but for the promise of more trees, more harvests, and the chance of more perspective from high above where the wild geese fly each fall. They are up there now, silhouetted against the clouds, making their ridiculous honking sounds.
And here I am, making mine. Pippin looks up