Welcoming the Ancestors

Today, I am feeling a bitter-sweetness. I am grateful for my life, for this lifetime, and yet I also desire to sit in a huge circle, maybe around a fire, with all who’ve come before me, both those related to me through genetic heritage, but also those myriad others who’ve given rise to who I am now.

A Tuesday afternoon at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Ready-for-winter trees on a mid-October Tuesday afternoon at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

I know one day, I will meet them all. But for this time of year, I like to remember the ones whose photos I have, photos I will use to hold a space for them on the ancestral altar, and the ones whose photos I do not have or even whose names I do not know—all are important, all deserve my gratitude, no matter who they have been.

These few days go by the name of Samhain or other names, depending on one’s origins. I do not have anyone in my immediate family who shared the idea of an ancestral altar. My herb teacher, Kathleen Maier, planted that seed some years ago and it’s begun to germinate and grow strong roots.

The sweetness of this time of year echoes the harvest, the fullness of nature’s bounty that we’ve gotten to enjoy with the last of summer’s abundance and the continued abundance that comes up from Earth in the form of root vegetables or grows from trees in the form of our native and Asian persimmons.

The bitterness gets frozen in the “what if” nature of our minds, the part that often, despite our best efforts, sends out feelers of fear. It’s an ancient remnant of the deep knowing that not everyone will make it through the long, dark, cold months ahead. This seems true, even now, though most of us in the Northern Hemisphere’s autumn and winter enjoy heated homes.

Beech leaves, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Beech leaves, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Still, many people choose this time of year to leave. I often wonder whether they do so because the heart, in its old wisdom, is already somewhat prepared to accept losses at this time.

All around us, too, nature prepares. I’ve observed the sweet gum outside this week, as more and more of its leaves, shift from green to gold, maroon, ochre and orange; most of the leaves are still on the tree, but here and there, a single one falls as if it signaling it’s okay for the others to let go.

Even a few weeks ago, on a day trip to Dolly Sods, West Virginia, when there were still leaves lingering on the trees, mostly yellows, they danced in the wind as they made their way down…and even on the ground, they whirled about; they seemed happy.

That is a kind of joy that I intend for myself. To enjoy the grace and ease with which trees live their lives and then to let go, merrily and with an essential fervor and deep gratitude—I cannot think of a loftier goal.

The autumn day we brought Pooh home. What a great dog!

The autumn day we brought Pooh home. What a great dog!

Tomorrow, when we arrange the photos and write the names of those who’ve gone before us and light the candle that will burn through the following couple of days, I will remember those who’ve left me in the last year: my sister, Teresa, my friend, Eugene. I will add a photograph of Pooh, the Pomeranian-poodle, with impeccable timing, who I miss and still dream about, who could not have come into my life at a better time.

This time of year, however one celebrates, deserves our solemn attention, for it’s about remembering, it’s about reconnecting with the Source of everything, it’s about honoring, and it’s especially about gratitude.

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