Samhain

The Dew Abides rusty blackbirds on Samhain
The Dew Abides rusty blackbirds on Samhain

Courtesy of Flickr/Gerrit Vyn

The back door was open to let in the sound of pouring rain, but it was the chattering of hundreds of birds, right behind our home, that made me drop the lunch I was preparing to go outside and celebrate.

The call is unmistakable. Twice a year, enormous flocks of rusty blackbirds stop for food as they migrate to and from their wintering grounds. And only minutes after that explosive arrival, they vanish, leaving behind a gaping silence.

Stumbling on one of the unpredictable mysteries of the natural world feels like winning the lottery. How fitting that it happened on Samhain.

Falling about halfway between the autumn equinox and winter solstice, Samhain (pronounced SAH-win) marks the beginning of winter in Celtic tradition. On Nov. 1, cleansing fires are burned, cattle brought to lower pastures, feasts prepared, and stock taken of winter supplies.

In a commercial culture where traditions and holidays have been bastardized beyond recognition, I welcome a simple day to mark the end of summer’s bounty and acknowledge how nature shapes our lives in the cold and darkness.

Early in the morning, we burned a fire in the wood stove, tossing in herbs from the garden. No surprise, the rest of the day revolved around eating, with an emphasis on cold-season roots and greens. Oh, and foraged pears. In lots of butter.

Instead of dreading winter this year, I’m resolved to embrace it as a necessary Sabbath, both for me and the land — more brisk hikes, bike rides with frequent stops for hot chocolate, and evening writing sessions by the fire.

Cold weather gives us permission to take a break from the mad rush of productivity. Guilty thoughts of “I should be painting the fence” or “The garden needs tending” are put on hold, as we enjoy the land without trying to alter it.

Maybe Samhain marks the beginning of another kind of migration, an interior path to restoration that all of us deserve to take once a year.

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