The sunflowers were put to bed, you know. I mean, literally put to bed. Their heads were lobbed off, stalks cut at the ground, and their big round discs, bulging with seed, laid in one of the wood-framed flower beds. One day, toward the end of last month, I set out to Franklin Farm wondering if the sunflowers were still there, if they hadn’t toppled over from their own hardened weight, or been purposely cut down by one of the volunteers prepping for the winter months. What I found was that they had been deadheaded. They’ve been slain, I said to my kids. I was mortified and, well, sad. I felt out of sorts. I felt like I was ten-years-old again, and I hadn’t been prepared. No one prepared me for this event. They are sunflowers! I know, I know, they are not human, but they are theys! And, well, I had become attached to them. And I wasn’t prepared.
Of course, the feeling was fleeting. (Sort of.) As I am fully aware of the natural cycle of things, the arc of a life. Yet, I hadn’t thought it was time. Hadn’t imagined that they’d be laid to rest so soon.
It is my birthday today. I am fifty-three. Fifty-three. To my teenaged children, a number that signifies antiquity. Yesterday, I took a picture of the giant wall of wild grape leaves that climbs up a row of maples in our backyard and screens the land and the brook running behind it. It’s a glorious canvas which, all summer long and into autumn, hides the view of the adjacent street. Yesterday, the leafy wall was a mottled mass of reds and greens and golds that, brushed against the sky’s diffuse lighting, looked as if it had been painted by a French impressionist. This morning, I woke and went directly downstairs to find that, but for a few stubborn leaves, our natural wall of privacy is gone.
I don’t need to point out the obvious metaphor. But there it is, and I cannot help but address it. Look, the leaves have departed. Disappeared. Vanished. Though I can smell their earthy aroma in the air. And yet, as I look closer, some leaves are still clinging to branches like babies to mama’s breast, not knowing that the milk has dried up. Mama is tired.
Today is not like yesterday. Tomorrow the wall will be even thinner. I am reminded of this conundrum every October. Autumn’s vibrant landscape is utterly gorgeous and inspiring, but it is a set up, a prelude, an inauguration for the (inevitable) darkness of winter. In New England, we excitedly anticipate the fall season. We are thrilled by its coming. We embrace and celebrate the spectacle, the pink morning light, early evening’s crimson and amber sky, and the cool, crispness of night. But the season’s contrasts—its beauty and brittleness—remind us that it’s short-lived. And so we are inured to its passing even if many of us mourn it.
I am not the same person I was yesterday. I am not the same person I was in my forties or thirties or twenties. I think, though, that I am, or have become, or rediscovered, the person I was when I was ten. Ten. And what a joy to be ten! And how to be ten! (Though at ten, I had a memory.) I better remember myself at ten than at forty. Why? Simple. I was vibrant then. At ten, I was flash of red, streak of umber, gilt-edged silver. At forty—an age at which many women claim they come into themselves—I was warming milk bottles and wrapping dirty diapers into tight triangles for efficient disposal. I was baby food, a sallow pea green. Overwhelmed, exhausted, uncertain, bland.
Changing seasons, changing colors, passing months and years. And I am ten again. The first, magical double digit. I am writing, creating, and engaged like I was when I was ten. I am excited! This is good news as I can’t mourn my youth if I’m still ten. But it’s also bad news because I still have a ten-year-old’s habits: procrastination and play. You know what this means? I still have not written the lecture I was supposed to write last month. This is the same lecture that I was supposed to start writing months ago. It was September 9th when I finally made a note to myself to write it. And then I went lollygagging. Again. And here I am, another year older, still in the What to say phase of the lecture. I have, at least, been reading toward the lecture. Taking notes, and pictures. So I am also in what is called the research phase. Right? Of course.
Ten, ten, ten.
I have stopped admonishing myself for dawdling. At fifty-three, I have come to realize that what I am doing, what I’ve always been doing, is something known as purposeful lollygagging—which is something quite different from wasting time. (As if time can be wasted.) A purposeful lollygag is not idle, no, it’s the putt-putting of thought, ideas, words, images. It’s a process that, in theory, eventually puts you at the center of the green with the little ball rimming the hole. And… Plop. Not often a hole-in-one (and probably never!), mind you, but after several bunker shots you learn how to line it up and see the clear path to the pin.
My mind is not as elastic as it was when I was ten. And in a way, I’m happy for it. There are many things I can’t, and frankly, don’t want to wrap my head around. There are plenty of things I prefer not to remember. There are many more things, yet to happen, that I will remember. Or not. It’s okay. Truly. Because, already, I remember tomorrow. But I have no idea where I will be yesterday. Everything will come to pass and pass to come. And next year, if I am fifty-four or not, the seasons will turn, the sunflowers will blossom and fold, seeds will scatter, scatter everywhere, and then they’ll be put to bed. And some time, before all of that happens, I will write a lecture.