The Contemplative Days of November

The day after Halloween, All Saints Day, has long been one of my favorite days for being quiet, turning inward. Even when I was a kid, the day after Halloween felt like a turning point, different somehow, as autumn receded in the face of winter. And November 2, All Souls Day, keeps that feeling going as we are asked to remember all the dead, saints and not-saints. That puts me in a thoughtful mood indeed.

There is no snow on the ground yet, but death is all around. The garden is now a gathering of crackly plants in various shades of yellow and brown, seeds spilled, leaves withered. The leaves have mostly fallen from the trees; bare tree limbs reign. Are trees the only beings to shed their clothing as the air turns colder?

Inside, I turn on the heat, build a fire, cook. And sometimes, like Sunday afternoon, there is a thump that turns my head, keeps me thinking about this cycle of life and death.

I was standing in the kitchen, heating up some cold coffee, when I heard the distinct thump of a bird hitting our living room window. We have a large picture window that faces west; birds hit it every once in a while but seldom seem to fall to the ground and stay. This time, a goldfinch hit the glass so hard that little gray feathers stuck to the glass. I ran to the window to look below and saw it on the ground in the ferns. Then I ran outside, down the stairs of our deck, and picked up the warm little body, so light in my palm. It had broken its neck, I think; its head lolled to one side as I scooped it up as gently as possible. Its eyes closed as I held it and I could see it was asleep for good.

My eyes filled with tears and I knew this was our fault. Our fault for having this window with no screen over it to prevent birds from running into it. Our fault for having a bird feeder too close to the window. I went to find my husband Mick, who was outside trimming away dead garden plants and scattering seeds to winter over until next year.

He buried the goldfinch beneath our lilac bush. And we moved the bird feeder to another spot far away from any reflective surfaces.

Some people might say, good grief, it’s just a bird. Happens all the time. But that is precisely what I think we shouldn’t do when faced with some injury to man or animal that we realize might be prevented. Why not think more deeply about these sorts of things, own up to what we do that injures other beings, and extrapolate from there to, oh, I don’t know, texting while driving? Driving after drinking? Allowing part of our population to die because they can’t afford medical treatment?

Yes, my thoughts completely ran away with me flying behind. And that is what these days with their promise of looming cold and snow do to me. Make me take stock. Make me bury what needs to be buried and change what needs to be changed.

Perhaps that is something for which to be grateful.

Fallen Leaves by KCMickelson

Fallen Leaves by KCMickelson

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12 comments

  1. All Saints Day wasn’t even recorded on my monthly calendar. However, it was on my tiny Monet calendar in my bedroom by my west-facing window. Since I have an indoor cat, he has conversations with the chickadees who come to their water dish…I will remove this when the frost comes. One day another cat I had in another house brought me a present of a dead male cardinal in his mouth…making noises to impress me. I understand your tears.

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  2. I read somewhere that November is ‘gratitude month’.
    In my grumpy old woman persona I think that EVERY month (and day) should be, but I am grateful for this post. It is thoughts and commitments like yours which change the world in ways that I am comfortable with.
    Thank you.

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