Savoring autumn days

It’s beautiful these days, cool and no humidity in Minnesota, but the days are also somewhat sad in my household right now. Dawn is breaking later every day, and sunset coming earlier, putting a dent in the time I have for gardening. Most of my high schooler’s friends are heading out of state to college. And our thirteen year old yellow lab, Penta, struggles to stand up now. Yesterday I bought a harness contraption that puts two handles on her back and on her hips so that we can lift her like a suitcase–help her get up, get into the car, get up the few steps she can now handle.

Life is change, and in general I am a person who loves change. But some changes, when what is now contrasts vividly with what was, just bring grief.

This morning, out in the garden, talking out loud to the plants as I often do, I heard myself say this to a pot of zinnias as I pulled them out of the planter they were in:

“Oh, zinnias, I remember when you were just seeds in the packet and I fell in love with your picture at the garden store! I had never planted only red zinnias but you were just so beautiful! And then when I put you under the grow lights, your first tiny leaves were adorable! And you have been so bright and tall and beautiful, blooming all summer here, right when I pull up my car…”

And then, as I saw how pathetically dry the soil was around their roots as I pulled them up, I continued, “I’m sorry I didn’t water you better. The other zinnias are still looking good because they’re over where I can use the sprinkler. I did not haul jugs of water out here often enough. I put you out of the way, baking in this metal tub, because you looked so beautiful here. I didn’t know you were this dry! You have looked amazingly good for a long time.”

And then I finished digging them up in silence, shaking the dry dirt off of their parched roots, feeling sad and grateful.

Somehow, telling the whole story, seed to compost pile, brings peace to me even as I feel the sadness. We’ve been doing the same thing with Penta’s demise, recalling to her what a fantastic puppy she was, showing each other photos of her, singing her the songs we used to make up about her when my teenager was young. There is tenderness as we help her to move, and there is a relinquishment in it too. I don’t know how long she will maintain a quality of life that seems fair to her. The day will dawn one day when, just like today I decided the zinnias had suffered long enough, and we’ll be saying goodbye to her, too.

As I wrote these words just now, I began to cry, and Penta heaved her old body up off her mat and left the room. An acutely sensitive dog, she’s never been able to bear it when I have emotions. I called her back, gave her a good pet and scratch, promised I wouldn’t cry anymore, and helped her back to her mat. There is still much to savor with her, I realize. It’s not time to cry about losing her when she’s not gone.

This little scene with Penta woke me up, as I seem to need to be awakened every day: It’s not winter yet! Go suck the marrow out of these gorgeous fall days and grieve when it is time to grieve! Pet the dog, pick some of the zinnias that are still blooming, and enjoy!

May we each enjoy what is ours to enjoy, savoring every moment of autumn even as we know it will be followed by winter’s chill.


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