I love preparing for winter, even when I know I won’t be here for it. (Jack would say especially because we won’t be here for it.) In fact, it’s my favourite season. The colours, of course, and the crisp air. But also the act of shutting down. Clearing the last of the debris from the vegetable garden, raking leaves into humungous piles, pruning back the shrubs, ripping out the shrivelled up marigolds. Last weekend, we shut down the camp (cottage) on Lake Superior. Tucked it in for the year. Here at home, we’ll have to mow the lawn one last time. A few Brussels sprouts and some chard are all that’s left in the garden. We still have to put away the deck furniture. And rake leaves; most are still clinging to the trees, so that job is still to come. Over the years, we just kept planting trees in the yard without thinking about the implications for fall—but I wouldn’t do it differently.
I’m not sure what it says about me, that I actually prefer the ramping down of fall to the gearing up of spring.
Before shutting down the camp, we hosted our annual hiking weekend with friends. Well, hosting isn’t quite the word; it’s our place, but everybody pitches in. This has been going on for much of a decade—a 2-day binge of hiking, eating, drinking. We did less of both the first and the last this year. Of the six of us, three were nursing mild discomforts—a recent knee replacement, an arthritic hip, a sprained foot—that kept us off the more challenging hiking trails. As for the drinking…perhaps we’re just becoming wiser with age, but I’m sure there were fewer empty wine bottles than usual. Nothing seems to slow down our consumption of food.
One of the hikes we did take was a favourite along the Sand River. Water levels in Superior and its watershed are at almost record highs after years of disturbingly low levels. Walking along the river, with its three gushing waterfalls, I found myself humming the Incredible String Band’s Water Song–as I often do on this trail.
Water, water, see the water flow,
Glancing, dancing see the water flow,
Oh wizard of changes, teach me the lesson of flowing.
As we tuck in for fall, I realize how ingrained is our response to the flow of the seasons and how what feels so natural for us is really simply a function of our spot on the globe. The almost Biblical death and resurrection we experience annually has to affect our view of ourselves and the world in profound ways, at the very least creating the metaphors that help us make sense of our own experiences. Here, I am wandering into psychological and philosophical territory for which I am completely unprepared—so I will move on!
At the same time as we are raking leaves and patching up the insulation around the back door, we are beginning to make plans for our return to our winter home in Mexico—this year, not until after Christmas. I am doing so with the usual conflicting emotions. Guanajuato has become so much a part of the rhythm of our lives that I would miss it terribly—the people, the routines (which are so different from home), the place itself, the language with all its challenges. I want to be there—but I want to be here, too, to enjoy the long winter sleep, wood fires, fat novels, and long visits over tea. Someone will be sure to remind me that I don’t miss frozen water pipes, reluctant motors, and endless shovelling. And as someone may also remind me, it’s been a decade since I’ve spent a full winter at home. Is it possible I’m romanticizing it? Possible, I suppose.
For now, the fall colours are fading along the Echo River, the leaves are falling, and I’m looking forward to finishing the wind-down from what was a hectic summer. But first, a rare chance next week to spend time with our whole family and my two brothers at a cottage near Dorset, Ontario followed by a quick trip to Toronto. Perhaps some thoughts on multiple generations of siblings next time…