The reckless spells conjured by careless and cruel humans over the last two months cast long shadows that have reached even my little haven. Still, I do what I can, harvesting sage, rosemary, lavender, and marigold petals while stocking up on hope and optimism for the long-predicted winter isolation. Moon water collected to cleanse, and palo santo lit to protect. Ballot mailed in early, chest freezer filled, local trips limited, and projects lined up to take my over-active mind off whatever sensationalized news darkens my doorway.

Will all of this be enough to keep my loved ones and me sane and healthy? The specters of unexpected illness and poverty from a broken healthcare system and looming economic crash haunt my dreams at night and my social media by day. I wish I possessed a crystal ball, but they are all backordered from China. Still strangers in a new town, my only scrying comes from out the window where I gaze upon our neighbors like socially distanced guests at a masked ball. I can only guess at their lives and affiliations by symbolic porch decorations or political signs. Rental houses sit empty with mailboxes overflowing or grow neglected, covered in vines.

Deer wander through our yards in broad daylight, perusing me like I am the one trespassing, and rightfully so. Squirrels have formed their own militias, armed with nuts and determined to show us who’s boss. The trees are slow to turn, as if reluctant to move into autumn, and exceptionally warm temperatures have led into an uneasy Indian summer where the enchanted garden still hangs on despite the frosts.

Safe for now in our little cottage on the hill, a bubbling pot of soup on the stove and a line of salt on the threshold, we light a candle and sit waiting for what is to come, spellbound in a captive world.

Letting Go Revisited

There’s snow in the forecast as I write on this dark final day of October when the thinnest of veils has already curtained our surrounding hazy fields before the hidden sun goes down. If I look out to the horizon I swear I can see souls from the past and future flying by in the wind today atop frantic leaves searching for ground. After a very hot and dry autumn, the weather has already played a trick on all who had hoped for a fun night of treats this Halloween with its howling high winds and stabbing hard freeze.

Like the leaves that will be gone by morning, I’ve spent the day letting go of things in this time of endings. The outgrown and expired have been sorted into charity bags or given to compost. I complete my necessary end-of-the-month tasks and check them off a list. I finish chores that have been languishing for months and gather the perishable before nightfall. And I continue to pack my hopes and dreams in moving boxes.

Maybe transitioning in the spring or summer is overrated. Perhaps the best time to silently slip away is when the fields lie empty and the villagers huddle inside by their fires loudly boasting about summer conquests while feasting on their triumphs. I don’t have much to say after two years at a retreat center in the country, and what was gained will be left behind. I take only experience, a little wisdom and some bittersweet memories. They are heavy enough.

Hopefully by the holidays, my spouse and I will be sitting at a new hearth heated with love and quiet resolve to be true to ourselves. There will be lots of beginnings in 2020 but I am not afraid. There is nothing left to regret on this day between the worlds and wonder, when I am more than ready to shed the old and welcome the new.

Thinning of the Veil

Last year, I was preoccupied with all the fearmongering and polarization going on in my neck of the woods, and my nation. This year, after some of those fears have been realized (or threatened), I feel the presence of the ancestors, and take solace in their company.

As mankind’s old wounds are reopened and exhumed, they are waiting with us while the sins of past human horrors fly screeching from tombs of our denial to join with present atrocities. Just when you think all are accounted for, yet another evil pops out of the Pandora’s box to be addressed in brazen light of day.

Last year, I talked about being afraid of the dark, but this year I welcome it. Limiting my vision within velvety shadow shields me from the glaring justifications and blinding boasts by a narcissistic chorus of cons and culprits, criminal in their actions while they preen themselves with angelic posturing and shameless self-promotion.

Meanwhile, since last Halloween and the apocalyptic national election that followed my ancestors have been nudging me back to life, whispering those long-forgotten lullabies, breathing deserted dreams and destiny back into my heart, resuscitating the inner child pulled from a deep pool of adult despair.

Instead of the anticipated fear, I’ve been surprised by a spooky joy, one that jumps out from the country hayloft or city parking lot. Hope and possibility reveal themselves in the swallow’s swoop and stranger’s smile, the clasp of a trusting child’s hand and the brush of a cat’s whiskers.

I’ve witnessed in wonder the gathering of all ages to make art, and had my breath taken away by the incredible beauty that is birthed every living moment by reawakened creators surprised with what takes flight from their hands.

There is no doubt that this has been a hard year of endings, of death, of an inconsolable loss for what we used to believe and know with absolute certainty. And we have a right to lament what has been lost while grieving the absence of many who have recently left this path for other worlds.

But still, in starlit moments on inky-black nights, I’ve seen that they haven’t deserted us. They are still there, at the end and along the way.

The Scariest Halloween

A truly frightening local exhibit of overly zealous holiday decorating. (And this is only a PORTION of the display!)

As a kid, better holiday plunder was only to be had at Christmas; as a young adult, the all-important party behavior was a gateway persona to an alter ego; as a mom, my photo albums are still full of my child’s timeless cuteness from costumes’ past. This year, there is nothing, the scariest Halloween of them all.

That’s right, no holiday decorations, no industrial-size bags of candy, no never-ending stream of trick-or-treaters, no holiday parties, no laborious dressing up for those same parties, no spooky music or creepy movies. “The Great Pumpkin” has already aired, and the Halloween aisle is currently being packed up to make way for its jollier rival.

We have downsized ourselves into a whole new world, and I can’t say that I miss the old ways of celebrating All Hallows Eve that much. I can get my fix from streaming favorite music and shows on demand, or walking around our nearby affluent neighborhood with a “more is better” philosophy in decorating. The kids in our apartment complex trick or treat at the fire station across the road, or leave in cars to canvas distant housing developments more expertly than door-to-door salesmen.

But this year, I find that what scares me the most comes from turning on the TV news, or scrolling through Facebook, or even reading the homemade billboards showing up in concerned citizens’ yards. I am horrified by the hateful viewpoints and polarizing contempt exhibited by people I thought I knew, much less strangers.

Lately I find myself frozen with fear like the small child lost in the night who can’t discern what is real from unreal. But as an adult who thought I had the dark all figured out–I am truly more frightened than ever–not by the masks, but what I see when the masks fall away, mine included.

May we all find our way home to the light after traveling dark paths, and forgive us our own mischief.

Of Hurricanes and Halloween

With Sandy barely tickling these parts where I live, most of my energy has been spent worrying about the folks back east, the ones I know and everyone else.

I’ve become acquainted with a couple of hurricanes in my time — one of them intimately. In September of 1989, my husband and I rented a quaint, shingled cottage perched precariously by the side of a slow and lazy river in Maryland. (Here’s a renter’s tip: Never agree to anything after only seeing it at night. Works for dating, too.)

As we waited for word on where a certain hurricane named Hugo would choose to party, I began to pack some belongings for a stay in town at my husband’s office, which happened to be inside a college gymnasium.

Truth be told, we didn’t particularly look forward to a night spent in what used to be a ticket office, with a sticky vinyl couch, a dog, a cat and my unfinished Master’s thesis that was due in two days. Therefore, I was thrilled when I heard that the big boy would miss us.

So we stayed put, feeling smugly prepared as we battened down the leaky storm panels, and stowed away the furniture on a deck already sliding off the riverbank from erosion, confident that an extra bag of Fritos and a flashlight or two was enough. What can I say, we were young and immortal.

It was high tide, of course. As Hugo’s outer tendrils began to wander up the Chesapeake Bay, the full ramifications of our decision to remain began to slam into the house after gaining steam across a mile of open water. Even in his weakened state, our angry visitor began to pry at our windows and pound on the doors, pushing into our psyche with his howls.

As we cowered in the living room with our pets, electricity long since snuffed out, we could hear the boulders placed to prevent more erosion being moved like pebbles along the shoreline. I still remember looking out the window (this house’s foundation was less than a yard from the sandy bank) to glimpse the once flatline river now a roiling oceanic monster, chewing away at what little was left of the earth below us.

Suddenly mortal, we spent the long periods of rising winds debating what to do: remain on the first floor until the storm surge started to rush in, or head for high ground upstairs so that the large cedar tree next to our house could crush us?

Exhausted from waiting for windows to blow in, or water to pull our house down the river like Huckleberry Finn’s version of an amusement ride, unbelievably, we fell asleep.

In the morning, we awoke like Dorothy, inside a still house, lying upon the raft of our futon. A new sun sparkled in the beautiful blue of sky scrubbed clean by nature’s fury. The birds sang their good fortune in finding themselves alive, and all along the river lay miles of debris stacked up on the shoreline. Anything you have ever thrown away could be found there.

Despite the fact that the house was all but falling into the river, with a deck now cantilevered ten feet over the beach, we considered ourselves lucky and beat a hasty retreat well inland.

In the dark of night we returned to find the cedar tree that survived Hugo’s advances had fallen for a freak cyclone late to the party, missing our upstairs bedroom by inches.

That’s it, I announced to what was left of our peace of mind.

We’re moving into town.

A month later, we were caught unprepared by the hoards of trick-or-treaters knocking at the door of our safe house in town, tucked into a quiet street well away from Neptune’s reign.

After what we’d been through, facing the angry ghouls and ghosties of dry land just wasn’t as scary.

*My heart goes out to all those who have suffered terrible loss in this hurricane. This experience was but a fraction of what the victims of Sandy have endured.