It was the time between the lights when colours undergo their intensification and purples and golds burn in window-panes like the beat of an excitable heart; when for some reason the beauty of the world … which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder. – Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
It is October. Blog posts should come easily right now. Beauty upon beauty spins gently from the maple trees. The world is polished to a coppery shine. Yet I have felt anxious. Tongue-tied.
Virginia Woolf was right about the beauty that is particular to October days. Yes, there is laughter (children diving into piles of leaves, Jonathan and I planting daffodil bulbs together), but there is anguish, too.
For weeks now I have been trying to understand why the beauty of October makes me sad. Has it always been this way? Is it more pronounced this year?
Last spring, I wrote about the beauty of the golden hour. Here at Maplehurst, the whole month of October is golden. There is the glow of all these maple trees, but it is more than that. The light itself has changed. It is rich and thick, like caramel sauce. Or melted butter. Now, even the blue sky has a golden tint.
What is the golden hour? What is this golden, October light?
It is good news from a far country (Proverbs 25:25).
But that country is not yet our possession. It remains just out of reach. During October, it draws near, but it will not stay for long. I never can forget that all these trees will soon be bare.
Perhaps one way we follow in the footsteps of a wounded redeemer is when we do not look away. When we refuse the numbness and distraction of our cellphone or our television show or whatever it is that is so much less beautiful and so much easier to behold.
It isn’t easy to live our lives against the backdrop of rich, ringing gold. The rift between October’s beautiful song and our own tempers and headaches and worries is too great. It would be easier not to look. Not to see.
In October, I understand that I live most of my days with a veil over my eyes.
Will we ever be bold enough to lift our heads towards an October sky and “with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory?” (2 Cor 3:18).
The cost is anguish, but the prize is laughter.
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Is just so full.
The peonies are heavy, and ruffled, and scented. I have a jar tumbling with pale pink beauties right at my elbow, and I keep stopping to take deep, deep breaths. Like I’m dying of thirst, and this smell is cool water.
The strawberries in the vegetable garden are ripening so quickly I find at least a few mushy fruit no matter how often I pick. I keep keep them netted against the birds, and I try to gather most of them before the kids come home from school. It’s the only way I can guarantee at least a few berries for myself.
The blueberry bushes are small but loaded with fruit, and I’m ashamed now to remember just how angry I became when I caught the two-year-old stripping green berries off the branches. Now when we walk past, she looks at those bushes, shakes her little head, and says, “Mommy so sad.”
Spring allergies are wrecking me, most of us have had pink-eye, our dishwasher finally died (after a long, not-very-valiant struggle), and we’ve already had so many warm, humid days that I’m starting to get very nervous about the summer.
I read Kate Atkinson’s beautiful, mind-bending, heart-wrenching new book called A God in Ruins: A Novel (Todd Family). I’ll have a bit more to say about that in an upcoming installment of These Farmhouse Bookshelves, but I’ll tell you now that Atkinson, already one of my favorite writers, just keeps getting better and better.
Probably, I’ll also be recommending Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest: The Buried Giant: A novel. Only a third of the way in, I’m already stunned. Ishiguro is a master, an exquisite stylist and a compelling storyteller. I’m afraid my family is in for a weekend of being ignored, because I can’t stop reading this book.
All winter I sipped tea while I read, but I’ve switched to cold-brew iced coffee. I was once a pro with a mason jar and a fine-mesh sieve, but I am loving an early birthday gift from my mom. The Toddy Cold Brew Coffee Maker With 2 Extra Filters makes the cold-brew process – already easy – even easier, and the lidded carafe keeps the concentrate fresh longer. You certainly don’t need a gadget like this for cold-brew, but, let’s be honest, sometimes a messy bit of cheesecloth or a sieve that isn’t quite fine enough are all it takes to send you to the pros at the coffee shop.
Tonight is pizza night in our house, but for the first Friday in weeks we won’t be putting asparagus on our pizzas. Our backyard harvest has ended for the year, but if you still have asparagus around I highly recommend sauteing a few spears in extra-virgin olive oil before laying them right on top of fresh mozzarella (I recently shared our quick-and-easy crust recipe at Grace Table).
On instagram, I’m sharing flowers, flowers, flowers, plus the occasional cute kid. I’m also taking time to step out into the last of the golden light even though it means changing the mud-streaked pajamas of the two little bedtime-avoiders who always follow me outside.
It really is too much. I can’t handle it all, but I suppose that isn’t the goal, is it? Not to handle it. Not to manage it. But to live it.
Which means, I think, to keep your eyes open, your heart broken, and the words thank you always on the edge of your tongue.
It is called the Golden Hour or, sometimes, the Magic Hour. Photographers and filmmakers revere it.
It rarely, if ever, lasts an hour. Usually it is less, though in the far north in deep winter, it might last all day. It is that period just after sunrise, or, more usually, just before sunset when the light is warm and soft and shadows are long and gentle.
During our winters, golden hour is something I glimpse from a window in mid-afternoon. A sight that causes me to pause. For a moment.
Now that it is spring, golden hour is more like a place. We might wander in and out of the house all day, but as sunset nears a new door opens. It no longer matters what indoor tasks are pressing on us (homework, dinner prep, a pile of laundry on the dining-room table). When that door opens we will stay outside until the door swings shut and every last, golden drop vanishes.
This week, in this magic evening place, I have seen a two-year-old girl, her hair the same color as the light, kneel in a sea of violets. She used a stick to stir a basket overflowing with dandelions. She was so focused on her fluffy, yellow stew that she never saw the pink magnolia petals drifting behind her back. She never noticed the bright green buds from the maple tree dusting her shoulders.
This week, in the golden place, I have seen a brother and sister roll their bodies down a green hill, over and over again. My own shadow was so long, reaching toward them, it seemed as if I could wrap shadow arms around them while they rolled. I could use shadow hands to help them back onto their feet.
In the golden hour, all kinds of burdens are lifted. Dinner and homework and laundry matter so much less. Even the daily burden of gravity seems to lift. In this light, we walk somewhere between the earth and the sky, belonging equally to both. When the two-year-old cries, “I catch the moon!” I believe her.
Here is what I have seen in the golden hour: my children are beautiful, the earth is gentle, there is no reason, ever, to be afraid.
Here is why I hesitate to share what I have seen: Baltimore burns, another young black man is dead, wars rage, a marriage is ending, young parents grieve a baby’s diagnosis, a friend has landed back in the hospital.
I am strongly tempted to keep the vision of golden hour a secret. I know that my world is not the whole world. Do I tempt you toward jealousy if I say that this week my life, between the hours of six and eight, is almost unbearably beautiful?
Yet if I am silent then some essential part of the story goes missing.
CNN and NPR tell their stories, and we feel duty-bound to hear them. What about the good news? What about those dispatches from the golden hours?
The door to that place opens and closes according to a will that is not ours. Some evenings bring clouds and rain, and we are given only darkness.
I cannot even begin to guess why this is so.
But I hope that when the clouds move in, and darkness once again surrounds me, that you – yes, you – will have the courage to share your golden visions.
That I might know more of the story and take heart.
That I might glimpse the ending of it all and have hope.