Tuesday, November 3, 2009


We've just passed through a momentous milestone, the period known in France as the Toussaint holiday (because November 1 is All Sants, and November 2 All Souls' Day in the Christian church). In North America Hallowe'en tends to grab all the attention, the night before All Saints, and in Mexico and area it's the Day of the Dead that is foremost. All these are connected to this magical tipping point, the time when we are halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter Solstice.

Long ago I spent the Toussaint weekend in Paris. I was seventeen, a time when everything feels clear and memories get sharply etched. My memory of that time is of older women dressed in black walking to church, a dull grey sky with occasional drizzle, Notre Dame and other churches grey with chill and stone and centuries of prayer and incense, and a feeling of claustrophobia (all that belief, all that black-garbed sorrow) together with exhilaration (I'm here, in Paris, and isn't the stained glass amazing, and the gothic stone and the sense of timelessness!?!). So the Toussaint always resonates for me, forward and back, and becomes a time to remember the dead and treasure the living and all the possibilities in life.

Yesterday afternoon, just as the moon came full (at 2 in the afternoon here in Toronto, I was told), a friend was telling me that this was a particularly powerful full moon, given that it falls at Pagan New Year. Aha! It can be no accident that northern European christians celebrate the saints and the souls at the same time of year as their pagan ancestors (and modern pagan descendents too of course) celebrate the time when the veil between the worlds of the living and of the dead is at its most transparent... WIth the full moon overseeing it all this time, let's hope we're well launched into a productive fruitful year.

(And this same full moon marks the Thai festival of Loi Kratong, when everyone makes a small raft of banana leaves, places a flower or other beautiful thing on it, and a lit candle, and floats it down the river in the evening; the idea is that all one's bad thoughts and bad deeds and bad luck get carried away, a lovely idea... almost as lovely as the sight of all those little barks and their flickering fragile candles bobbing their way downstream and out of sight.)

Last night at Robert Lepage's Stravinsky production (of the Nightingale and other stories), there was another huge full moon hanging in the sky, with the members of the orchestra on stage below, and then in place of the pit, a huge volume of water, a giant pool, sent little reflecting ripples of light across the ceiling. It was fabulous, the music, the staging, but still nothing human-made can compete with that magic of a fat autumn moon in the sky, the scuttering sound of dry leaves blown by the wind, and the sharp clarity of chilly autumn air.

I find myself wanting to swallow it all so I can hold it in my mind's eye and not lose it. One way to do that is to keep an eye open for landscapes or sights that are especially wonderful, like the glimpse as I drove to Grey County last Friday of a line of trees on a green grassy slope casting a golden "shadow" on the grass, made of the golden leaves that had fallen from the trees in the last couple of days.

Another is to cook and eat the treasures of the season. The best this week has been a pumpkin soup made of organic small pumpkins bought from Potz, a version of the Silky Coconut Pumpkin Soup in Hot Sour Salty Sweet, with chicken stock and coconut milk as a base. It was great the first day, but predictably my favorite has been as leftovers, the soup used to poach a farm-fresh egg. The soup is golden anyway, but then the colours get richer as the egg yolk adds another deeper golden note to the mix...

And up there in Grey County, apart from general loveliness, there was a really good visit with my Aunt Libby; an intense sauna in the forest, including a walk through the trees just in my bathing suit, so warmed from the bones outward was I; then a feast with Jon and Lillian; then a truly wonderful session of shape-note singing; followed by a long easy drive home through the dark to Toronto and a welcoming house.

On another topic, but so connected to my feelings of happiness about my time in Grey County, I read a short essay this week by Todd May, at http://happydays.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/02/happy-ending/?th&emc=th about the way in which limits give things value. He's saying specifically that the fact that we die, all of us eventually, gives life more meaning and makes it more seriously treasured. I think that's right. Each sensation, each relationship, each good moment (and a lot of bad ones too) are precious because life is finite, time is short, and it's up to us to give shape and meaning to the time we have.

And if indeed we've just passed through Pagan New Year, it seems a fine thing to head into the dark of winter with a sense that it's up to us to light our own way in the world.

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