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Polylith 008   ☷  

Viridian to gold

the immaterial
the impenetrable. Tao Te Ching, chapter 43

Hello once again my fellow seekers (autumnal hermits, vernal pilgrims, equinauts, others). We’ve swung more than halfway round the wheel since I first wrote to you, and the hemispheres meet here again at equilibrium, again headed in opposite directions. Some of us slip into autumn, and some into spring. Regardless, here we are at equilibrium between light and dark, held for a moment in balance. The balance is dynamic, to be sure, and as with any truly balanced whole, an element from each half will always be found somewhere in the other. But can that be? What obscure bit of night could manage to hide amid these well-ordered equinoctial days? We’ll see.

The autumn flux is underway here on this waveworn peninsula. The lakes lose a few degrees each night as cool air settles over the surface, the surface having shifted in color from charged cerulean in summer to autumn’s cold chert. On the surrounding moraines, green slowly drains from the canopy and hidden hues begin to suggest themselves in the crowns: here a subtle purple beneath the green, there straight to straw, everywhere reds and oranges and magentas soon to come. Out on the dunes, flush goldenrod passes to pale aster, vermilion monarch circles against racing clouds, cottonwood leaves rattle in the wind. It bears stating firmly: autumn is not the end. There is in fact no end at all; divinity is already here, amid the falling leaves and fruiting fungi, and its varied plumage iridesces presently from viridian to gold, from ultramarine to slate and soon enough to winter’s blinding feldspar white. The braid weaves on.

In and of

The new moon passes over as I write this. It crosses the chalcedony autumn sky in backlit obscurity, hidden within the obliviating halo of the sun. It is up there now, although we can’t see it. In a few days it will trail behind and reappear as a sweet thin crescent at sunset (as an arc of a calciferous spiral, say, embedded in a thin luminous mineral plate), but for now it remains a dark orb beside the heart of the day. The new moon is precisely that obscure bit of darkness that manages to hide in the midst of light.

Conversely, in fourteen days’ time the full moon will climb the obsidian bowl and telegraph high noon into the depth of night. At the equinox, new and full moon are each an eye of the great monad, a bit of yin and yang each in and of the other.

A black and white photograph of a pyramid-shaped basalt stone, the size of a small stool, embedded in the sand at the waterline on a sandy beach. The water is calm and bright, with a low swell washing gently around the stone, and to the left in the background a steep, dark bluff rises from the sand out of frame.

Of and in

I wonder: why does autumn feel like an end? Why do we make such a performance of our annual grief at seeing summer recede, of dreading the approach of the supposed trackless burial of winter? Perhaps each autumn we are playacting in safe miniature the grief of feeling, in an epochal sense, the living earth wither within and around us. We weep before the tomb, but come spring we rejoice loudly that the earth has been resurrected. A miracle! What appeared dead was merely slumbering!

In this performance, the earth dies and is buried, descends to the dead beneath the snow. On the third month it begins to rise again, and through the equinox ascends bodily toward summer. The performance is safe because it repeats year after year, conforms to an enduring and beautiful myth of life everlasting. But the myth, however true, is not apt. If we treat each autumn as a death, meanwhile knowing that the cacophonous resurrection of the earth in spring is inevitable, then we betray the myth and denature death. Perhaps autumn is no death at all then, but another lovely loop in the eternal seasonal braid.

But death is nevertheless present. Beneath our misplaced annual performance of grief lies an awful reality, almost too awful to speak. Biodiversity ebbs, the sea acidifies and warms, trees succumb to exotic epidemics and the forest burns. That is no autumn, surely, and resurrection is far from inevitable. The misplaced performance has conditioned us to expect a dayspring come April, a messiah from the wings, but the stage is a delusion; we stand on the earth. Divinity is already here, and until we recognize as much we’ll continue to stumble dimly toward increasingly silent springs. Divinity is here, and we know it by the shifting of its polychromatic plumage, we’re beckoned by its iridescence through the seasons from cerulean to chert to glorious blinding white, from viridian to gold before our eyes. Each in and of the others, all in and of all. Let’s follow.

Well, that’ll do for September. Thanks for reading! It’s all a bit heavy, I know, but here we are — this is the moment we find ourselves in. The Meaningful ranges well beyond the bounds of The Ideal, I think. All the same, happy equinox, and happy new moon! May there be balance in our beginnings.