A few leaves hang in there, still green, mostly on the willows and some shrubs, and the grass is still green underfoot, but we are clearly on our way into Mud Season, that longish interseason between the glory of Fall and the advent of real Winter. As I have said often, this part of Canada has six seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall, Mud Season, Winter, and Mud Season again; and sometimes the two Mud Seasons put together feel as though they occupy more than half the calendar.
This was actually a pleasant day, if you don't mind mild, wet and windy. But this Fall Mud Season is different from all the others I've been through. Even on the mild and open days, there's that sense of becloudedness, and it's an occlusion of the spirit, not the sky. Oh, I know we're well off: we're too small a target, too unimportant for any terrorist to bother with. I talk to the people I know in New York and I know that they're lying when they say they're fine, although I'm not sure who they're lying to, me or themselves. I hear from California and northern New York, from Minnesota and New Jersey, from Virginia and Massachusetts, of the general unassuagable sense of grief and unease. North of the border we're not so badly affected, but we're still all a bit wonky. It's much more Mud Season of the soul right now than of the landscape, and it's Mud Season in places where natural Mud Season does not exist.
This is a time for beef stew and other creature comforts. In Mud Season, creature comforts are especially important. Not luxury; luxury feels all wrong right now, maybe even a bit obscene. This isn't a time for Malpeque oysters and champagne but for meatloaf and mashed potatoes--for tastes, scents, sounds, sights that remind us of peaceful and comforting times.
For me, it's not meatloaf and mashed potatoes or the scent of burning leaves or lilac, much as I love these. No: for me, at this sad season, it's the new guitar. I played guitar when I was young, but I never got past a certain level (and probably never will); and that level wasn't quite good enough for the people I was hanging out with, so eventually I gave up. Up till the beginning of October, I don't think I'd touched a guitar for almost 30 years. But then my kid sister got herself a guitar (she is a much, much better guitarist than I ever was), and I started feeling wistful and impulsive. So I borrowed a friend's guitar and sat on the sofa holding it and putting it back into tune and fumbling for some basic chords, and that was that. Now my own bottom-of-the-line Yamaha classical guitar sits on its own stand in the living room, next to a straight chair with a music stand and footrest, and I noodle away at it whenever--and especially whenever the greyness seems to get right into my soul.
The aim isn't to escape from reality; the aim, instead, is to get your toes deeper into it, turning from the talking-heads unreality of CNN and the fear-filled whisperings in the supermarket lineup back to the reality of this life. Come what may in Afghanistan, the frogs and other hibernatory critters are shutting down for the winter here, and it's good to think of that--to remember that we are not the only species around the joint, and that our troubles are transient compared to the great cycles of carbon and water and such. However nervous-making the news is, tortoiseshell Maggie-cat still slips between my hands like some heavy liquid when I let her flow down from my arms to the floor after a mutually satisfying fuss. Whatever will befall us next month or next year, supper still has to be got and the dishes done. And this is a very good thing.
Doing these things, or simply sitting and noodling at the guitar, I find myself not so much reassured, as taken into a place where reassurance isn't important. Who was it said that the future doesn't really exist? It doesn't; all that truly exists is the present moment and the past. and of those two, the present is the important one, because it is where God and I are working things out. With my soul in this present moment, I can succumb to reason, not to panic. Yes, there is a chance that my next bank statement or gas bill will have anthrax spores; there is also a chance, although quite a small one, that I might wake up tomorrow as a pretty pink toad with a ruby in my forehead. I believe in the selective ostrich approach: if there's not a damn thing you can do about a particular situation, at least you can refuse to worry about it. Much more soberly, the proper thing to worry about is the flu, which we can do something about.
Holding my guitar (a cuddly sort of instrument), gently fingering the strings, searching out chord progressions, learning some new fingerpicking patterns--these help me enter a sort of quiet presentness. I used to feel this way holding a child: that all that exists is this one moment in time, and that I could wrap this moment as though in amber and put it away in my jewelry box, preserving it for later. It's not just that my anxiety drops for the small time I'm sitting and noodling; it drops for a space after that as well.
This is a good time for dancing with the baby in the kitchen, if you have a baby around, or for walking through a yarn or fabric store, intently fingering the wares, or for polishing silver, if you like that sort of thing. It's a good time for the sort of cooking that takes all afternoon and two dishwasher loads of pots and pans. It's a good time to refinish furniture. The point is to immerse yourself in something sensual and happy, because as C.S. Lewis put it, God "wants [us] to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which [we] call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity." (Screwtape, 15).
For me at the moment, I can dive into that Present through six strings stretched tight across a beautiful spread of wood. I've got a new song to work on, a good tub-thumper, gotta work out that chord progression:
No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that Rock I'm clinging.
Since Love is lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?