photo by Lindsay McLaughlin
Autumn is an apt metaphor for transition; the landscape changes so dramatically as the season unfolds. This year, though, autumn holds real change for us at Rolling Ridge. Two of our five families are leaving. (I am part of one of those families.) While neither family is moving very far, the small size of the community and the reality that each member of our community, adult or child, has a meaningful role in our common life and ministry makes this significant, with layers of consequences and possibilities. In September we had a meeting of the Board and Community (on Zoom), in large part to consider how to walk into this and what to do next. What follows is the reflection offered at the opening of that meeting.
I pin my hopes to quiet processes and small circles,
in which vital and transforming events take place.
~ Rufus Jones, quoted by Parker Palmer in A Hidden Wholeness, The Journey Toward an Undivided Life
The delicate oval leaf lay on the trail, small and bright. Tupelo trees are beforehand in the journey toward autumn, releasing their chlorophyll sometimes in mid-August, and always when the rest of the forest is still deep with green. Long before fall is in the air, the scarlet teardrops scatter here and there on the forest floor, tiny beacons of the season to come.
Over the long months of pandemic, the Rolling Ridge residential community has continued to meet weekly outdoors, the adults sitting in a small but widely spaced circle near the pear tree while the children play happily in the field. We discuss minutia: garlic ready to be harvested, the repair of the plank bridge over the swampy part of Deer Spring, wood gathering for the work day, who’s using the Retreat House. These necessaries are like tiny bubbles riding on the cresting waves of the tumultuous ocean that is human experience in this time. We talk about that ocean, how we are straining to keep our heads above water yet are buoyed by companionship; how the world is a mix of horror and heroism; how we find ourselves simultaneously tender with grief and wild with gratitude. Now we find ourselves encountering even deeper shifting currents within our life together, making outgoing tides and rippling waves of their own.
How shall we sail these seas?
One might turn to the cantadoras, the griots, the keepers of the old tales, who are also poets and wise curators of the human imagination, which is so vast and powerful. They know that the world is full of surprises and that we have resources beyond our ken. Clarissa Pinkola Estes says,
I …recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one…I would like to take your hands for a moment and assure you that you are built well for these times…Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest….
Some say that autumn is the season of turning to the west and toward the dying sun, the season of letting go, of unknowing and mystery. For others, it is the season of beginning. Rosh Hashanah in the ancient Jewish tradition marks a new year, the anniversary of the making of Adam and Eve, the dawn of the human race. Some of us remember when autumn meant the first day of school, the crackle of a fresh notebook opening, the feel of a narrow box of long orange-yellow pencils, unbitten and sharp, ready to write a new chapter.
Michael Meade says, “Life roars at us when it wants or needs us to change. Ultimately, change means trans formation, a shifting from one form to another that involves the magic of creation.”
That magic is stirred in quiet processes and small circles. It is mixed with the grace of letting go and the faith to trust our long timbers and with the joy of a new page. It lingers in the ruby tupelo leaves, and in the thin golden tinge on the edge of the still clinging walnut leaves, signaling those with eyes to see that Rolling Ridge is on the cusp of autumn and re-creation.
May it be so.