Late fall for me has always come with a feeling of melancholy longing as the days grow short, and the light slants more and more from the south, reminding me of the coming of the cold season. It brings also a strong need to gather in the places, the people and the events of the times and seasons, an ingathering of the spirit that completes the ingathering harvest of September and October. The Thanksgiving feast begins this turning inward for me, this diving into the depths of the season that begins with the fullness of the reaper and ends with telling the tale of the harvest and the prospects for the coming winter.
Within the passing years, this season becomes associated in my heart and mind with music—particular songs that seem to evoke the season and the times—for awhile. I first noticed this in the late fall seasons that ended the 20th century, during the late ‘90’s, when the season’s turning was evoked by a song played on the weekly Singing Wire program. I cannot find the song and I cannot remember even a line of the lyrics, but I remember that the song wove together the sense of autumn that I experienced with the traditional native preparations for dying in one of the plains tradition, evoking the peace pipe, the sweat lodge and the buffalo robe. This song became my autumn song that was played in the fall for a few years.
2001 marked a change in my life and in the times and seasons of this country, as the EG and I conducted a courtship that began in the promise of summer and culminated with an engagement diamond purchased on 9/11. That year in particular, the yearly seasonal turning at late autumn seemed to join with the sense of the late autumn coming into winter of the Saeculum’s turn from the Third to the Fourth Turning. That was the year that the then Boychick (now grown into a Cowboy in Training) endlessly played at rebuilding the twin towers in the kindergarten room during High Holy Days, and the EG and I drove back from getting apples at Cochiti while we talked about the coming crisis with Mason Proffit asking: “Will the winds of Black September fall like shrouds upon the world . . . on the tape deck in the Focus. On the day before Thanksgiving, as I drove home through the Bosque, the last of the golden cottonwood leaves blowing in a cold November wind, I heard Leonard Cohen plead: “Sail on, O mighty Ship of State!”, evoking Longfellow: “ . . . in spite of rock and tempest’s roar, in spite of false lights on the shore, Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea, our hearts our hopes are all with thee . . .”. These songs played in my head every autumn through the early years of the new century; years in which we watched our country transformed from the fierce pride and purpose of 9/12 to the soft tyranny of Homeland Security.
And then as the first decade of the century passed its midpoint, in the time of moving and changes, and moving and changes again, my late autumn mood music changed too, and turned inward. As I did. As we did.
In 2008, the year of the market crash and the election of uncertain hope and cynical change, I heard anew the stern warning and the fragile hope of the Yom Kippur service: “ . . . who shall live and who shall die, who by fire and who by water . . . but tshuvah, t’fillah v’ tzedakah temper death’s cruel decree” put to a deeper artistry in Cohen’s Who by Fire? In that time every day brought new revelations and we were hopping between opinions like birds, knowing not what was lost and what was gained and who was next. We, the pampered and entitled children of late 20th century America, began to reckon with uncertainty and risk not known since the time of our grandparents and great grandparents.
As the Obama administration wore on, giving us wars that multiplied, legislation against the express will of the people, government gun running and unsustainable economics, what we had said so glibly at the very first tea parties became frightening reality. We were waking up daily into a different country than the one we had been born in. In 2009 as I heard the first broadsides of anti-Semitism in an American political movement, I could scarcely believe that it would become part of parcel of the administration’s policy, and in the mouths of the supporters of a libertarian-leaning Republican Congressman and presidential candidate. I can still scarce believe that the United States Senate just voted away the ancient and honored right of Habeas Corpus, making a de facto government violation of rights under Homeland Security into the purported law of the land.
Like the rest of us who yearn to restore the Constitution, I made many false starts in trying to figure out where it was that I must stand, with whom and what it was I was given to do. In that time I learned how to make judgments based on principles rather than personalities, construct arguments from those principles and to stand up for individual rights wherever they might be attacked and by whom.
And with my family, some close friends and member of the Tea Party and the local 9/12 group, I began to imagine what might happen when this economic and political house of cards comes crashing down, as it is bound to do. For the laws of thermodynamics are certain, and our lives are governed by them on the basic level of energy. You can’t win, you can’t break even and you can’t even quit the game. That is, you can’t get out more than you put in, you can’t get out what you put in, and these rules order any system that builds on complexity.
So we began to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. How was I to know in 2009 that those preparations would include leaving behind a beautiful home that I loved in order to go somewhere far away from the city, and move into a community where people live by the values that made this country strong and independent? The idea of removing myself and the products of my labors from the false economy of the looters seemed far fetched as I sat in my office, polished my beautiful floors and carefully planned and prepared holiday meals and ceremonies. And yet I wondered if I would have the ability to leave it all, as my ancestors did, in order to preserve my own values.
And so began one of the most fearfully amazing times I have ever experienced. With each necessary step once taken, we met the right person or found the right place to take the next one, and fraught with risk as each one seemed/seems, everything came together as if we had been guided. And so we were, as we began to take the actions of free men and women. In retrospect, even the missteps and mistakes become providential, bringing us to the teachers and learning that was needful for the next.
But in the time of the most protracted move of my life, I lost my home, the place that I carry with me wherever I am in time and space, my Makom, the place and source of all that true and good and growing in the world. I was living in a world turned upside down. And even if by my own choosing, I was experiencing a revolution in my own being, the revolution that John Adams said came long before the battle for independence. I had thought that the revolution was external, but the battle takes place first within each of us as individuals.
Last Thanksgiving, that first song—the contemporary Indian death song—was weirdly back in my mind, the rhythm and sense of it remembered, but not the words or the tune. I can hear the drum, the voice of the singer, but I still can’t find it, not really. None of the other music that defined late fall, and the transition from unraveling to crisis, spoke to me in the same way. Last Thanksgiving, I was rootless and mourning for my friend turned Cain and the death of his brother, Abel. I had gone east of my own Gan Eyden, not able to go down to the orchard, to taste its sweet fruit. That I was content in the little island of our Thanksgiving at the ranch last year, does not contradict the sense of coming chaos that I knew at that time.
And all the past year, I have been packing and moving, saying good-bye to what was and cannot be much longer, and greeting that which is becoming what is, a very different and darker reality. This sense of exodus has been apparent in my sparse writings for Pesach and the Holy Days, and yet, standing upon the far shore of that deceptively calm sea, I am surprised to find myself home again. Home at Freedom Ridge Ranch.
On the Friday before Thanksgiving this year, on a journey to Sedillo to stay in our house for the last time, I got in the car after opening the gate to leave. And when I turned on the radio to the country music I had come to appreciate, I heard a deep voice singing:
“West—on a plane bound west, I see her stretchin’ out below,
Land—blessed Mother Land, the place where I was born . . .”
It was Dierks Bentley’s new song called Home. And it was like I knew the words though I had never heard the song:
“From the mountains high, to the wave-crashed shore, there’s a way to find better days I know.
It’s been a long hard ride, got a ways to go, but this is still the place that we all call home.”
That’s the word, the song that evokes the season of the year and the Turning of the Saeculum, the Makom, the sensibility that takes me to my place to stand.
“Scars—yeah, she’s got her scars, sometimes it starts to worry me—,
“Cause lose—I don’t want to lose sight of who we are.”
Since 9/11 and the foreboding that came before, I have been struggling with the sense that we have been losing who we are meant to be: A free and independent people bound together by an idea, and the courage to identify ourselves by it. We are an exceptional country created not by blood and soil, but by the premise that life, liberty and property are rights endowed to every human being.
Home. It is that idea that I was raised with, and that all my friends and schoolmates were raised with, a precious legacy that our children have not been taught and neither do they understand. But it is here still, the foundation to the place on which we are to stand.
Home. At the ingathering of the harvest of our labor and the harvest of our thoughts, these are the words that evoke the late fall for me, in this time and place. And we continue to prepare to bring ourselves and those we love, our friends and neighbors through the gathering storm into the better days we will come to know.
Home.Those that came before us, they were brave enough to leave what was behind them and make for themselves and for us something new. And they fought and died for it. That place we all call home.
“Brave—Gotta call it brave to chase that dream across the sea.
“Names—then they signed their names for something they believed.”