September afternoon

nestA Saturday afternoon in September, the last of them.  Where the air leaves off and my skin begins, I can’t tell. They are the same temperature, the same softness, the same.  There is no need for a sweater or shoes. I sit in the lawn chair by the garden, eyes half closed, listening to the low, incessant churring of crickets, the intermittent hammer taps of a woodpecker in the maple tree overhead, the chatter of birds, their wing beats as they come and go from the feeder, the acoustic hum of bees burrowing into the jeweled nasturtiums.

It is that gentle, golden, in-between moment, no longer summer but not fully fall, either.  The sun, already sliding down the sky, casts long purple shadows across the grass and, elsewhere, creates translucent pools of light. It feels nearly holy, this luminous glimmer shafting through the trees. Everything is softening, crumpling, fading.  And yet, on this mild, sun-kissed afternoon it isn’t an ending I feel, but a thrumming continuum of energy, an urgent, insistent turning toward life and change.

Any day, the hummingbirds will depart our New Hampshire yard for warmer climes, but for now they are here still, a busy iridescent blur vibrating in and out of the purple petunias, intent upon visiting each cascading blossom.

The sunflowers are spent, their heavy heads drooping upon slender necks. But I’m in no hurry to cut them down, not till  the finches and squirrels have finished  feasting on the seed heads.  Today, they are like a crowd at a banquet — eager, gathering around, intent on the work at hand. A neighbor’s rooster crows, heedless of the fact that dawn was hours ago.  A red squirrel perches on the stone wall, chittering to no one.

On the other side of the house, I can hear my son laughing with his friend, the thwack of the basketball in the driveway, occasional cheers for shots made or missed.  Another day, and he and I will be on a plane heading south, delivering him to his new life at school.  What I feel — hearing him play as he always has, seeing his suitcases open on the bed upstairs, making our shopping list for Target in Atlanta — is not the sadness of an imminent good-bye, but readiness.  He is ready, too.

It’s not his first leave-taking.  Four years ago this fall he went away to boarding school.  That time, the house rang with silence, as if a door had abruptly slammed shut on his childhood, on my day-in-day-out job as his mom, on the only life I knew.  I could hardly bear the sight of his empty room, his chair, the shoes he’d left by the back door.  A year ago this month, we caravanned to Boston in my dad’s borrowed pick-up truck, our old van, the car, all packed to the brim, and moved him into an apartment in Boston for a gap year of back-healing, working, growing up, figuring things out.  Time well spent, as it turned out. And now, with two broken vertebrae mended and a year’s experience of living on his own under his belt, he’s eager to step into the long-envisioned future that has finally become the present.

I came outside an hour ago with a stack of mail to open, a bound galley to read, my phone in my hand, my mind buzzing with its own plans and busyness.

But all I’ve done is sit.  Listening.  Feeling. Being.

The quieter I am, the more I hear.  The longer I am still, the more I see.  The more my heart opens, the more it fills. Doing nothing, I am perhaps doing the only thing that matters. To be here now is not only a gift but a practice. And I am rusty.

“Remember this,” I tell myself:  the rise and fall of boys’ voices, a ball keeping time on pavement, birdsong, the bees’ tuneless canticle, the time-addled rooster’s piercing call. No need to hold on or to mourn, nothing to regret or anticipate.

The pliant, golden leaves rustle overhead, like the whisper of a curtain being drawn slowly back.  The sun slips out from behind a cloud. The day gives up its meaning slowly.  Silence becomes its own kind of language.  And this language without words yields its own kind of understanding.  There is a secret key that unlocks the world:  attention.

In attention there is presence.  In presence there is grace.  And then, into that grace arrives a blessed revelation:  it is enough, more than enough, to be here.  To be quiet.  To do nothing at all but sit in a chair in my front yard and receive what the world has to offer – the afternoon  leaning toward dusk, a finch poised on a sunflower, my sweet old collie sprawled in the grass beside me, a son turning the next page of his life, radiance everywhere – just now, just here, just for this moment.

Already the light is draining away.  A flash of red and a cardinal disappears into the pines, his graying mate bobbing along in his wake.  The basketball falls silent.  The back door opens, closes. A car engine turns over. Tires crunch down the gravel drive. The air grows cool.  I gather my sweater, my flip flops, my untouched pile of work, and head indoors to flick on lights, shuck corn, make dinner for my husband and our son.



for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. Linda Rosenfeld says:

    To be aware and present is a gift we give to ourselves, for this special moment will
    not come again. Thank you for reminding me to appreciate this time. Our son is home for this , the last weekend of Fall. We will not see each other for a month because of college and work and all his other activities. I cherish these days. We
    share foods we both love, and long discussions about life and music. Small things…
    We take this time to bond and look forward to the next time we see each other.

  2. Oh, these emotions. I’m trying so hard right now, to pay attention, to drink in every moment of life as I know it before everything changes. My daughter will go away to college next fall, and my son leaves for boarding school in two months. That was not something I planned for, nor am I even remotely prepared for it. I’m caught between wantin him home for four more years, feeling cheated out of my time with him, and feeling so happy and lucky he can chase his dream at his young age. This will be a hard spring, to be sure.

  3. Thank you again, Katrina. Your beautiful writing & insights brought me back to the present moment & I heard a bird singing outside my window. You live in a very beautiful part of the country, however, even here in a big city like Los Angeles living near LAX, I can hear a bird sing & enjoy my present moment.
    No matter where we live, the rich stillness of the present moment can renew us and bring us inner peace.
    Thank you for your lovely words that helped me “see” the beauty of nature in New England on a Sept. afternoon.

  4. Janie Larson says:

    Thank you for sharing your amazing essay. This September day in 2013 was just as beautiful as one could imagine. There was nothing to do but enjoy it, and I did. The sun’s warmth, the perfectly blue sky, the few fluffy clouds, the blue heron flying from one side of the river to the other were all there for me to drink in. I had “sight” for the beauty around me today and it is so precious. I often miss my beautiful world.

  5. Oh, wow. Yes. The quieter I am, the more I hear. Indeed.

  6. Oh wow. There is so much here. This essay is like a poem and with so much wisdom. I am going to keep reading these words: There is a secret key that unlocks the world. Attention.

    And this: The quieter I am, the more I hear. The longer I am still, the more I see. The more my heart opens, the more it fills. Doing nothing, I am perhaps doing the only thing that matters. To be here now is not only a gift but a practice.

    To be here now is not only a gift but a practice.

    Isn’t it amazing that the practice of doing nothing is the key to unlocking this busy, busy world? Thank you for these words and for your gift not only of attention but of your writing.

  7. I was once told that the divine is only in the now — not in the past and not in the future. God is present with us in the moment. This is where grace is to be found. And it is only in the present moment where we can experience the gift of peace. It’s too bad that we have to work so hard to stay attentive to what is happening around us. Thank you for reminding us, Katrina.

  8. Mary Lynne Johnson says:

    Thank you, Katrina…for your wise and heartfelt words.

  9. So many days are filled with longing. The sounds of distant voices, smells of laundry after a lacrosse game, coffee dripping, rubber boots and wet socks, phones ringing, car doors slamming, carrots simmering, the business of a life from another time, gone.
    Now, for me, I wonder. Will this new time be amazing or lost. Can I reinvent yet again and find energy to live passionately once more?
    Each morning, I awake with longings, longings for the past and future. This is my joy, my curse.
    I love the words of joy yet find such challenge. I see death nearer than before, some in me some not. It is the dark night before a new dawn I seek, I see it, nearby.
    An old woman sat with me a couple of weeks ago and we spoke of joy. Her legs no longer carried her outside as they had before. She still had life in her eyes, her voice was full of time gone by, from another time, a young girl inside. When she spoke, she said, ” When I am in nature, I can only look now from my window, but what nature does for me is to make me use my imagination, I imagine.” Tears filled her eyes as she spoke but in some way I was envious as she was feeling her life and had grown into old age and still found life, real life, in her memory, in her mind.
    A friend reminded me the other day that life is always changing, moving, flowing. That the challenges are never easy, I know this. What I know is that the feelings, the sadness, the next chapters can be more amazing than I can imagine. That keeping an open heart, accepting the changes and accepting the new challenges can help me forget my longings while I tuck them into my memories and safely put them aside.
    Into the night I go!

  10. Yes, I love the peaceful time spent that way……it’s a feeling, a way of being…I can’t put it into words but so love being able to experience all of the seasons here in nothern New England.

  11. Lovely, Katrina. This reads like a prayer and sounds like a hymn.

    You are so right. It is only by being fully present that we realize we already have enough, that we can cease the clinging and grasping, that the basketball just keeps bouncing.

    Thank you for turning my sights in the right direction this morning.

  12. I enjoy all the changes in seasons; in fact, I send cards to friends in celebration of each one of them, whether it’s spring, summer, fall, or winter. But living on the Gulf Coast, fall is just my fav as it remains suffocatingly humid and hot here for so long. Years ago, my Mom taught be to be aware of the seasonal changes by watching the shadows cast by the sun and fall starts showing its presence in the shadows here within the first couple weeks of August. This morning, it’s gray with a light rain and the first of the leaves are falling from the pear trees onto the sidewalks. Gray or not, rainy or not, how welcome the first shifts of fall!!

    I’ve just started reading a wonderful book about slowing down…World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down, by Christian McEwen. You may enjoy it as well!

  13. Yes, yes, and yes, Katrina. The one thing that gets clearer with age is the fact that life is about change. Accepting that – and the feelings that want so badly to tie you to the past – is what is hard. Beginning by looking around you at a perfect September day is a brilliant way to begin.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Thank you Joy. Change is never easy for me, but I am getting better at accepting it. A boon of age, perhaps?

  14. Katrina, what a joy to read your essay, echoing my thoughts about these last few weeks (sans the basketball in the driveway). You so perfectly captured the magnificence of southern NH. I can’t recall a more glorious September. What a blessing—this extension of late summer!!

    For the past month I’ve made a ritual of collecting golden orange calendula petals and brilliant blue borage flowers in my harvest baskets, thinking each day might be my last. In the warm sunshine, hummingbirds, bumble & honey bees gather pollen, as we ‘work’ side by side. Dragonflies race by. But it’s been a few days now since I’ve seen the flash of my emerald winged beauty, so I gather that they’ve already headed south. Late in the afternoon gold finches & chickadees fly from sunflower to echinacea, spilling seeds in their wake. Like you, I let the spent flowers stand despite their nodding heads and sorry state. All is well in nature, as always, changing.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      And already, the season has turned! My hummingbirds are gone, too. Loved all your garden still life photos.

  15. Dear Katrina..I happen to be reading to the music of James Taylor..I do not think a more perfect sound exists for what I am reading and feeling at the moment. You always touch on something that makes my breath quicken and pause. With boarding school not far off..your four years ago..will be mine shortly. As always…you carry me in one direction and then another in your writing, reminding me of the beauty of life. Sending you a deep big thank you from Saigon… xx

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Jeanne, I love knowing our paths will continue to diverge and cross, and that you are reading these words from across the globe. Wishing you well through the transition, which will of course be as big for you as for your boy. Best to you BOTH.

  16. Lisa Tillman says:

    I have found your blog again after a long hiatus. I read this entry and remember why I so loved following your words… It is a rainy Saturday morning and I did my grocery shopping last night, so I was able to sleep in and can now enjoy a few hours of relaxation and contemplation before having to do anything. For some reason I was thinking of taking your Ordinary Day book off my shelf and starting that again this morning, but first I decided to look up your blog, and I am so glad I did 🙂

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Hi Lisa, so glad you found your way back, and welcome. Rainy here, too, a day for writing, reading, being quiet. Happy you are here!

  17. I so love coming here and spending quiet time with you.

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