Saturday, 24 September 2011

Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves: A Meditation for the Equinox

I have been sleeping on the long train journey, but now it draws to its end, and I am awaked to the sound of the train whistle, piping and high, as the train breaks, and slowly comes to rest in the station. On the platform, I see through a haze of steam, the Station Master; he is waving a flag, and calls out loudly "End of the line" as the train finally comes to a halt.

I open the carriage door, and step down onto the platform, looking around. This is indeed, the end of the line, and I see old men and women, and young families with children; for all these, this is the terminus where they need to begin their final journey home.

I walk out of the station and into the bright sunlight, along the road, which is bordered by trees, their branches swaying gently in the breeze, bright autumn leaves of golden brown and red forming an avenue. As I watch, a leaf falls, fluttering slowly down to the ground.

Off from the road, I climb over a sty. There is a path leading out across the fields and I take it, trudging through the fallen leaves. On my way, by the hedgerows, I see thorny bramble bushes ripe with fresh blackberries, and I carefully pick some and enjoy their sweet taste.

The sun is nearly setting as I pass fields full of labourers, hard at work, gathering in the wheat, and I see that their task is nearly complete; it needs only a few more days to gather in the harvest. A bell tolls, and they begin to pack up, and leave. As we pass, I nod in greeting, and they nod back. And finally, there is no one left but one lady, sitting on a stone, breaking her journey home. Beside her is a silver sickle, which she has been using in the harvest.

I see that she has a flask of cider, and as I pass her, I greet her and she offers it to me. I take a swig and enjoy the sweet taste of apples. And she has a loaf, and breaks off some bread, and hands me a part. Then she sings:

Home is the harvest, once again,
The goddess brings the ripened grain
The crops and bounty, gift to cheer
The wheel turns, the end of year
Before in winter, seeds do hide
Rejoice in this, our harvest tide

Drink deeply from the cider cask
And gather in, the reaper's task:
The season's cycle, death, rebirth
Rhythms of life within the earth
By wind and storm, a scattered spore
Now gathered in to Autumn's store

Harvest prayers, that all be fed
And grain becomes our daily bread
Of sustenance for thinking reed
Together now, break bread and feed
Of all the hopes and joys today
And comfort us upon our way

I have finished eating and drinking, and I get up to go. She hands me a lantern, and we embrace, then she moves back along the path to where I can now see the light of dwellings. But my way, for now, is away from those comforting lights, that cosy domestic warmth of hearth and home, and I head away into the gathering darkness.

The sun is setting, and it is darkening fast. I see the sky, dark clouds against a brilliant purple sky, and the outlines of trees in the distance.

I light the lantern and continue on my way. The path is now passing through trees, and the sound of birds has ceased. All is quiet, with only the sound of my feet crunching on the fallen leaves and acorns on the forest floor. I hear the hoot of a tawny owl, and continue along this old path, past ancient tree trunks.

The path opens up into a clearing, and I stop because I have seen lights flickering in the distance, and hear singing. The lights come closer, and I see five robed monks enter the clearing. Four in brown robes are holding candles, and in their midst, lit up by the flickering flame, is a fifth monk in a white robe, holding a silver chalice high in both hands as they process.

Now I can hear more clearly what they are chanting, as they pass by:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence
and with fear and trembling stand;
Here is vision bright that reminded
Of the maker working with his hand
Fine he wrought and crafted vessel
Of the metals buried deep in land

Golden ages are ending, time is over
And now the age of silver stood
Here the grape is ripened, fermented
In the oak casks of wood
So take to give to the faithful
Drink deeply of dark wine so good

Take the old straight track and go
Follow patterning on the way
As the Light of Light descending
Seeks the realms of endless day,
Beside the oceans of night here
As the darkness clears away.

The monks pass, and disappear into the distance. I see the path from which they came, an old straight path, and I take that path, moving downwards, past overgrown gorse bushes. Below, I can hear the sea, the waves breaking on the rocks.

I squeeze past the gorse bushes and step out on a rocky outcrop. There is a hermit, dressed in a grey hooded robe, sitting, looking out to sea, and he rises up, holding high a lantern, and gazing at the waves dashing against the rocks.

I watch in the same direction, and the moon suddenly emerges from behind the clouds, and I see moonbeams reflecting on the swirling waters of the sea. Further out from the rocks, around the headland, comes the dragon prow of a Viking ship, which slowly glides out into the bay.

By the bright moonlight, I can see the deck of the ship. There is a chieftain, lying on a bier, and with his hands clasped together around a silver sword. And there is a lady sitting at his feet, wearing a holly wreath, and dressed in a flowing green robe. And as I watch, she rises to face us, and raises a hand to wave in parting. Then the boat rounds the rocks, and I can see it no more.

Then the hermit turns, and I see his pale blue eyes, his hooked nose, and his white beard. He says to me:

This is the end of days
Darkened skies
Autumn's cloak over creation
Gather the harvest fruits
And the fruits of our lives
And look to the future
And the end of days

For remember this well:
In the end is the beginning

He bows to me and turns to sit again on a rock, looking out to sea. My audience with him is over, and I must leave him to his silence, gazing at the foam-flecked waves.

For it is time to return, so I turn and leave, and travel back along the old straight track, treading on the golden autumn leaves, until I arrive at my home once more

This is a journey that I need to make, time and again, until, like the Viking Warrior, it is my last, and there will be a final harvest of autumn fruits.

No comments: