It has been a golden summer at home, despite a few difficulties of the kind that come to all mortals. For the first time I can remember, I’m loath to see the season go.
I have a kinship with resplendent Autumn by birthright, but this year I can already feel keenly that I’ll miss the summer-gleam of evening sun on our wild little crop of cosmos blooms. I’ll miss hearing the laughter of unfettered children tumbling in the backyard grass, and miss peeking out into the garden to see what captivating new marvels have burst into being overnight. The high days of the brilliant season brought friends and hummingbirds and black swallowtail butterflies our way, and in between, they filled us with a contagious sense of jubilation that kept us out of the house long after we’d finished our errands.
But the light — the air — the sky — are changing.
The smallest of the aspen trees has begun its transformation at the top, a saffron flame on a candle-wick crown that will slowly lick its way down the white taper. Dusk comes earlier now to light the solar-powered fairy lanterns, one chain at a time. The cues and signs are everywhere, and — I don’t know how else to say this — for some weeks now, I’ve been feeling like a muskrat.
In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, Pa shows Laura a muskrat mud house with tellingly thick sides. “The colder the winter will be, the thicker the muskrats build the walls of their houses,” he says. “I never saw a heavier-built muskrat house than that one.” Together with other signals, and much to Ma’s bewilderment, this little animal dwelling lends wings of urgency to Pa’s harvest chores.
Though I can’t explain why, I feel like making thorough preparations as well. I’ve been jotting down Autumn meal ideas for some time, chopping vegetables for the freezer and making sure there’s always an extra “emergency” container of broth and chicken soup in the cupboard. The thermometers have new batteries in them, the fever medicines have been restocked — I think — and all the first-aid supplies actually have a friendly look about them, instead of leering down like harbingers of sleepless nights and discouragement.
Other plans are utterly delightful to make, and spiced with a sense of joyous anticipation that only late September days can yield. I’ve set certain new and beloved old books aside for frosty days like crocks of cherished preserves in a literary pantry: Herb of Grace, my birthday copies of The Lord of the Rings, The Princess and Curdie, Parnassus on Wheels, several of C.S. Lewis’ essays, Mrs. Miniver. Yarn skeins for a special project will be ordered soon, along with supplies for cold-weather kits for our neighbors-in-need.
My younger daughter is enamored of Jill Barklem’s Winter Story and has been asking if we, too, may “pull up our chairs by the fireplace to eat supper when it gets cold?” Yes indeed — and we shall make a batch of biscotti one of these days, little one, while we keep a watchful eye on news from the mountains to tell us when to set out for our yearly aspen-gold hunt. It’s time for boots and paths, handkerchiefs and thick coats and the snap of sweet apples on bracing trails.
To do any of these things in a spirit of fear would be wholly different from doing them from a place of trust in my Father and love for His people, and I am conscious of the contrast. This year I’m not making preparations in the hope of warding off hardship or challenges; no, this is more akin to taking up the harvest from a season of abundance and laying in supplies, of making a way for us to rejoice in the rich love of God tomorrow. If all I can do is think up the songs that I will sing to sick children through long nights — ah, it heartens me deeply to remember in advance that He will be there too.
“She is not afraid of snow… [S]he laughs at the time to come” (Prov. 31:21a, 25b; ESV). I linger over these familiar words in the last chapter of Proverbs and smile at how they resonate this year. There are many ways, I think, to clothe a household in warmth.
But this muskrat mindset also goes beyond hearth and home fires, in a direction I know well by now: right out the front door and onto the road. I know I’m going to feel Tookish when Autumn comes in splendor; while my hands are busy with tasks at home, my mind will be roving the old memory-ways, and my imagination taking to its heels on new ones. Insofar as a writer may plan her steps, then, I think I’d like to meet the changing of the seasonal guard with open arms.
So I’ve been locating and stacking the background research books for my “long story,” raising my eyebrows in amusement at the motley collection. I’m trying to think of forms and ideas to try out on the side, more to keep my own perfectionistic mind limber than to produce something worth reading, and jotting down plot elements here, essay snippets there. I’ve no idea what the actual work of the coming days will be, but in my reading chair by the window I hope to continue taking in whole books of the Bible in the shadowy, still minutes of the morning… to sit with sheets of lined paper on my lap at night as I learn what it means to create a novel-world in the service of my Lord.
I am sorrier than I thought I’d be to see the summer go, yes. But even as I scribble these words, a hint of something bright and brisk comes like a redolent tang upon the wind. I’m ready to journey.
Let it come, some inward part of me cheers; let the foliage ignite and the cry of wild geese drift down to a threshold and a heart kept by the King. A call to both provision and peregrination resounds through the opening song of Autumn. It’s time to celebrate home and harvest where I am — and it’s also time to go looking for them: to chase all the aching joys Homeward, and to watch for the direction of the Lord of the Harvest as He leads the way there.
First published in 2018, Provisions & Peregrinations is published here with the generous permission of Amy Baik Lee.
The featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and used with her kind permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Amy Baik Lee writes from a desk looking out on a cottage garden, usually surrounded by children’s drawings, teacups, and stacks of patient books. She is a former scholar of medieval and Renaissance literature at the University of Virginia, a sometime author of devotional short stories, and a current member artist of the Anselm Society. Ever seeking to “press on to [her] true country and to help others to do the same” (C.S. Lewis), she posts essays and stories about Homeward longing at Amy Baik Lee.