Handcuffs on the flowers

The doorway to winter is just too low for the summer gardener to enter. The season is too short for all the plans, and we fight the approaching winter like a dark shadow. We have no use for the warnings of hard frost, and there is a dreary tendency to make a defensive alliance with all the critics of winter.

Winter coming so quickly is like eavesdropping on snails, beetles and other fauna. I walked over the already hardened ground today, picking up little pieces of my summer identity, a stray bean, a dropped tomato, a squash vine that somehow escaped the fall cleanup. When one is in the midst of the growing season , there is no time for theorizing. The usually analytic self is put on a shelf. We move in time and think in eternity. Life seems endless in summer. Perhaps that is why winter is the dread season. The cold is only secondary. Did not our physical endurance increase as June went into July? As we watched the first shoots crack through the ground, seeking light, we knew that the embryo was the least part of the seed and that we would be here to see the first fruit. We were keen about much and hopeful of everything.

We are not gravely innocent of carrying our material thought processes with us as we join the life of the soil, but we are freed of their anxieties by the changing seasons. Here now, is life intertwined by and with the weather.

Perhaps it is the hills today as I walk the hard ground, calm and solid, that influence me to take the long view. Contemplation is a rare thing in city life. I have had to train myself in it. Here I see the greenness, the rustic flavor of the woods, and this is the mind's ease. Even my ears work here with a new keenness. The sounds of silence penetrate more clearly than the fury of a storm. Friends from the city are amazed to hear me say, ''there is a car coming down the road'' when it is half a mile away.

We are relaxed about clothes. After that first summer, when we experienced the hard physical labor required, we experienced a new self-pride that made what we wore matter less. Comfort and ease of movement were the rule. Clothes became assimilated with what we were doing, rather than how we looked. Now we are no longer apologetic to a sudden visitor for our soil-caked jeans and our blown, tousled hair.

But now we are at summer's end. Have we used up time from years, or do we have some left over and above our allowance? If the rustling of leaves at times sounds like the trampling of the crowd, it is a reminder that the world moves only as its people move; that the ultimate triumph is to move in step with what we find in the spiritual realm of nature and to expect less of the world.

As we say goodbye to the garden, we thank it for the strength it allowed us to express, for the stamina we found, as we grappled with the complexity of seed and growth. We were not called upon to be a poet or actor, but merely to catch the wind and labor with it. Wonder is at our heels as we walk, the dogs and I. Until they heard us approach, deer in the field beyond the garden were feeding off the dried-up grass which grew amid the clumps of thistle and thorn. They jumped gracefully through the nearest thicket. I turned toward the brook where the frogs were having a nightly fest. Love of the land hovered over and around me like a halo, lighting up the dark. It was as if I heard a voice of a friend, saying, ''I have heard the cry of your spirit, and I am come to comfort it.''

Night adorns dreams that are spoiled by awakening, and plundered by thieves of inquiry. Perhaps, I thought, awakening, I have an account with life, yet unfulfilled. Life must be a chain, whose links clasp one another, as chapters in a book. I looked, peering into the waters of the brook, and pondered on the limited sight of man that he cannot see what the loveliest toad in the mud instinctively sees.

Nature is always open to the possibility of the extraordinary. With her for example, it is hard to rest bleakly content with a passive existence. There is extended meaning in watching a wild hawk in a wind-swept sky. A tender branch in the path of the south wind touched my face and I knew I was not alone in my love. I walked and noticed that the birds had made themselves safe in the leafy branches for the night and that the flowers had already begun to close their eyes.

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