I woke up the other morning to a genuinely yellow sky: the kind of pale amber light that seems to only come in the autumn, and when it does, tells you that a change is coming in.
Within half an hour the rain started. I went out on my deck and stood under the eaves. It was remarkably but not surprisingly soothing to stand there, listening to the rain; I’m far enough away from urban density that I actually hear the sound of it, not just hitting the leaves that are still left in the trees, but the rain itself, the water breaking out of the clouds, beads of water rushing and rattling down to the ground. It was the same when I went out to listen to the wind coming up the night before, long strands of whining air flowing off the bay and back up—and apparently blowing in this front.
The rain was steady, strong, and very clearly beyond the control of anything human: it was the planet bathing itself under its own power and circumstances and in its own timing. The rhythm was even but the rain was coming down hard, that rattling sound that suggests it might even be a prelude to hail.
The fact that I can be so aware of the weather out here is deeply gratifying to me, because it reminds me what the planet is really up to, rather than the human-created nonsense we all become so obsessed with. Right now, in the face of the Midterm elections, each side is convinced the other is causing all the evil in the world, and also convinced that attacking them for it will make things better. Social media is filled with falsehoods, friends all ginned up by writers or bloggers or media stars who really aren’t journalists but who want to proclaim a furor and raise their ratings. The end is near. Act now and follow this line of thought or we’re all doomed. Honestly, if we are all doomed, I am close to genuinely believing that every one of us deserves it.
I do what I can, and here I can vote early, which I did. I can also turn off the media feeds of friends who are for whatever reasons momentarily poisoned by righteousness. I can choose music instead, or, when I do want to know what’s going on, use the technology handed to me to select as many different perspectives as I can find, read what lets me feel like I know the basics, and then go on with whatever else I need to be doing: working, writing, taking care of my animals, my household. Standing outside, listening to the rain.
I don’t know when it occurred, but somewhere in the nine years of volunteering with wildlife my misanthropic view of humanity shifted a notch further. I remember one afternoon when a carload of us were off to release several juvenile cormorants, young black water birds the size of bowling pins who were rehabbed after either being booted out of nests by siblings or picked up by misguided, well-intentioned humans when the adolescent birds were just messing around on the ground, trying to figure things out. Somewhere along the way to the release site one of the rehab staff began describing the human population as a virus, and another joined in to say it was a species that had gotten out of control; someone else suggested that the planet needed a flea bath. When we got to the release site some of the little birds were so confused they tried to run back up on land, and we had to chase them into the water, but pretty quickly their connection with their element seemed to snap them back into reality, and off they went.
I’m going to go out on a limb, here, and say that if we really do care about our families and their futures, we really do need to learn to calm down and stop terrorizing them with our politics. My experience is that family and friends are not given to us for extended, guaranteed periods of time, and we should all spend what time we have together with something better than social harassment. I’m going to crawl out farther on the limb to point out that unless we pay more attention to the planet and its condition, it’s all going to be moot, anyway, and sooner than most people want to recognize.
So I focus on the weather. I check how this limb is holding up, and back off when it feels like it’s got too much play in it.
Human beings, really, are a pretty nasty species, sometimes seeming closer to jackals and wild dogs than to the larger primates we’re supposed to be most closely similar to. If one wants to go to ancient and Biblical interpretations, we’re definitely more mud than we are God’s breath. Ancient philosophers believed our challenge was to overcome that duality; most religions argue the same. Compassion. Kindness. Doing what we can for others who have less than we do. Recognizing our powerlessness in the face of larger forces. Those books call us again and again to these lessons because we need so much reminding that this is the higher calling.
Politics are human created sports, methods of trying to make sense of ourselves, and like so many things we do as humans, we get so much of it snarled. For whatever reasons, modern politicians and the media that reports on them has gotten mired again and again in the graphite and dirt, even as they’re insisting they’re only making this mess because they want to be part of the solution. Within hours of me posting this, the election returns will be coming in, and there will undoubtedly be more noise: unending discussion of what has just happened and why, and how it will affect the future. One could also put a pot over one’s head and bang on it with a stick.
Classical scholars point out that in The Illiad, Homer referred to the sky as bronze and the sea as the color of wine, and those sorts of references carried on all the way through the Old Testament of the Bible. There was no discussion of blue skies; one theory is that they really didn’t have a word for blue: the color rarely occurs in nature, and it was tough to get it as pigment for dye or paint—it just wasn’t something that came up much, something they needed to express. There are also theories that the colors looked different because people saw differently. Early landscape painters often had as much yellow and gray in the skies as the crystal blue we think of now, and artists weren’t even attempting to paint realistically until as late as the 15th century.
So much of what we believe or what we take as fact is actually shaped and affected by how we’re trained to perceive things, by what we’re told, and where our attention is pointed.
I know many people who find this time of year a little disturbing, because the days are getting shorter and the light is changing noticeably almost daily, especially up this far north. It’s interesting to me how seasons take on different associations. I know people who have an autumn sadness, often associated with dread of going back to school, or the shortening of the sunlight. But the barn dances and hay rides and Oktoberfests of autumn happened because this was the harvest time: the results coming in from the hard work of summer, back before summer meant trying very hard to do nothing. Autumn was a time of bounty, for enjoying the fruits even as you were putting them up to help you through the winter.
The concept of feasting and settling in is hardwired into us: recently a friend of mine on a relatively suburban part of Bainbridge island looked outside in the evening to see her summer bee hives being raided by a large black bear.
Neighbors were aghast—what were bears doing on Bainbridge Island? There were plenty of noisy posts on local websites. But the next day my friend installed a hotwire around the bee hives and the bear has since left them alone, foraging elsewhere. Wildlife hates noise.
Harvest time is for bringing good things the from the earth and the trees back indoors with you, to keep them throughout the darker months, to continue to enjoy.
Will the elections make a difference? On some scores, certainly, but these scorecards go back as far as written record and the tallies continue shifting. Will we all be any less awful to each other? It’s up to us, I think.
Is this the rainy season, darkness and impending doom, or a time for savoring, and reflecting about things and people we care about? Is the sky blue, or is it yellow? Which is better? Which is true?
I say stand outside in the weather with an open mind and try to come up with language that reflects what you see. I hope we all find and create words that will genuinely express our experiences and our hearts.