I took these pictures on August 22, at the end of my week as a volunteer camp counselor at a local nature center and woodland gardens. I’d been hearing about the sudden and early onset of autumn as told by the change of leaves, but it was something else entirely to see it for myself. This particular morning was overcast and occasionally wet, though compared to the downpour at the beginning of the week neither the campers nor the counselors minded too badly. The great thing about it being gray and cloudy is that the amazingly bright foliage and fall blooms stood out even more.
My absolutely favorite time of year is the arc of months between Lughnasadh and Samhain. In my part of Virginia, the bounty at the local farmer’s market has started its height and the worst heat of the summer has started to wane. Daily summer thunderstorms, so common in July, have given way to gentler periods of rain followed by thick fog that gives everything an otherworldly quality. (I love how after a rainstorm, the Appalachians outside my door start looking like the Misty Mountains of Middle Earth.) The harvests are coming in, the fruits are ripe and ready for the taking, and we’re beginning the shift into fall proper. A few of the trees are beginning to tint early, and the kids are already going back to school.
This is the first year since 1994 that I haven’t had school immediately following the summer months. It’s an odd, odd sensation of watching my college friends pack up and head out, talking about textbooks and classes and what their plans are for the fall. Despite the association of autumn with a sense of slowing down and building up the stores for winter, fall always had a beautiful sense of new starts and new chances for me. Another school year where surely this time, I would study regularly and keep my dorm room clean and stay on top of all my extracirriculars. Another year to prove myself, earn the grades, do the work to progress to the next level.
It’s hard to understand where the time’s gone. Following the seasonal analogy I’ve just entered the summer of my life, having graduated and just possibly made it to the category of “real live adult.” (We’re still working on “functioning” and “responsible,” but one thing at a time.) And in many ways, it feels like I’m still climbing out of a long, cold winter, impatiently waiting for my body to finish thawing out so I can get up and move and do something. This fall, there’s no thesis looming over me, no papers to write, no homophobic Christian Ethics professors to cause me angst (that is definitely a story for another time). What I have now is plenty of time on my hands and my own fields to harvest and lay bare.
There’s a lot that I’m doing to put that time to good use – and, if you look at the hours I’ve racked up in Skyrim this past week, maybe not so good use. I need to immerse myself again in community and so I’ve returned to my local Unitarian Universalist congregation, which has been my on-again off-again church since before leaving for college. UUism is a good fit for me and this congregation in particular has other Pagans and plenty of Pagan- and queer-friendly members. Our fellowship is small, averaging about 30 members a week, and is completely lay-led. I’ve lead two services; one on the Winter Solstice entitled “Finding the Spark in the Dark,” and another I co-led with a friend on Paganism’s impact within the UU church. I would absolutely love to lead another. I’m also looking into the adult education course for Unitarians called Building Your Own Theology, which is pretty much what it says on the tin. UUism in my experience strives to unite spirituality with critical thinking skills and apply both to questions of social justice and community responsibility. There’s another Pagan-oriented adult education class called Cakes for the Queen of Heaven, whose focus is on understanding the Divine Feminine. Even though my ultimate goal isn’t to be an ordained minister anymore (though who knows what’ll happen?), it means a lot for me to have a religious community and give back to them in some way, shape, or form.
Ultimately, I think this turn of the Wheel will center around my own personal harvest as I take stock of what I’ve accomplished and begin to make preparations for the following year. What is my life goal, now? What’s the best way to feel satisfied, fulfilled, and like I’m living a meaningful life? Where do I go with my spirituality, my writing, and the whole rest of it?
I’d like to hear from you about your own experiences of the Wheel turning toward autumn. What do you find yourself harvesting? Where do you find yourself going? What’s your favorite part about this time of year?