Hopefully you will remember last week, as I wrote about the “hot potato” of when the leaves would fall. Well, the huge maple is still holding on, still with green leaves, although there is no need for shade since the weather for the last three days has been dark and cloudy. However, the ash trees have done their best to turn bright and beautiful yellow, and yesterday, with a slight breeze, they scattered the lawn and the street with a carpet of autumn.
Just like that, it seems, the season changed up here in the Dakotas. I know I write a good bit about the weather and the climate, but up north, that’s an important part of our life. We do have four seasons, but they aren’t in any way equal. Our Autumn lasts about 6 weeks, which is also about the length of our Spring. Summer holds pretty steady at 3 months, with ups and downs of temperatures. Of course, that leaves Winter, which only lasts six months – or so. I remember how odd it was, when we lived in Nashville, to experience Spring in February. Trees actually budded and bloomed soon after Valentine’s Day. Up here, we are blessed if they bloom by Mother’s Day.
Knowing then, that the long march of Winter is soon to come, it makes our Fall season a bit bittersweet. We through around words like “crisp,” and “fresh,” as though we were living inside a huge apple, but better words are, “Boy, is it cold out today!” “Are we ever going to see the sun again?” Which of course we are, during those sub 20 below days in January, when it seems too cold to have clouds.
Today, as I took Cheri to work, I drove with our headlights on, since it wasn’t quite dawn. There is now a constant breeze, and scattered rain showers about two or three times a week. They don’t water anything, really – they just act like you are being shot with the garden hose. And where last week I was boasting to my Texas siblings that we were almost warmer than they were, having had a high of 87, today we might break 54 degrees. Wednesday promises to keep us in the 40s. So, weather matters, and it not only gives us something to talk about, socially distanced though we may be, but it also evokes a change in the communal psyche and spirit of the people of the North.
Indeed, over the last number of years, we have seen a huge influx of new neighbors from all over the world, to the point that it is no longer an oddity to see a person of color in the grocery store. That wasn’t the case even ten years ago, when about 99% of the population was either of Scandinavian or German descent. It’s probably closer to 90 percent now, but the cultural identity is pretty pervasive and captivating. I had to laugh earlier this year when one of my Liberian pastors actually uttered the phrase, “Oof-dah!” as though he were from Oslo.
The psyche of the North is best described, I think, as foreboding. On that beautiful summer afternoon, with the grill smelling of wonderful brats, and a slight breeze ensuring that the mosquitoes stay in bushes, someone will remark, “Boy, it’s a hot one today, you betcha…” and all eyes will turn toward the voice, and then look down or away, almost to shun. Another voice will speak, “You won’t be saying that in a couple of months when your car won’t start because it’s so cold!” Every beautiful day brings the whisper of the Ice age to come. Someday, and sooner than we wish.
And so today, we commemorate the true death of Summer, and the momentary grasp of Autumn on us, knowing that it does so only to fling us deep into the Winter snowbank. That’s normal, and you can see the change in most everyone’s eyes – there is no more lingering, except perhaps for a moment to still look at the beauty of the changing leaves, before they drop to their deaths on the cold ground below. Happy days!
What we have not experienced, however, is the season change to Autumn along with the CoVid pandemic. For all Spring and Summer, folks have had to navigate through the nice parts of the year as though they were locked away from the world. It was not good, but you could still open the windows, and sit in the backyard and work in the garden. As the beast follows us into this new season, however, it’s as if it is doubling up on the gloom. The restaurants have opened up to outside dining, but when it’s 45 with a 20mph north wind, it all becomes take-out and drive home. Again. Some communities are discussing cancelling Halloween, but this year, with a Saturday Halloween, there is no way it’s not happening.
Hopefully folks will be able to find creative ways of not being so isolated for the next 6 months and six weeks. It’s a bit of scary proposition, especially for those who are alone in the first place. My honest prayer is that, again, we northerners can be intentional about being with one another in a safe and life-giving way, and to recognize that this season, like all the others, is part of the cycle of life that God offers to us. Wherever you live, even if it is not a blessed place that gives you four seasons, I also pray that you will find grace in the way your life changes, even when it gets dark at times. It’s all part of life, in which God says, “This is My gift to you, My child…”
Word for the Day: macarize. No, it doesn’t meant to turn something into pasta. MACK-a-rize, with that “z” on the end lets us know it is of Greek origin. The “izo” in makarizo means the making of something. Makar in Greek means “happy” or even more profoundly, “blessed.” Macarize, as we write it in English, really means to call, proclaim and declare someone or something to be blessed. It’s like a holy congratulations! I declare to the world that you are someone who is blessed this day. What a neat thing to say to someone: I macarize you today. By the way, we find the most famous macarization in Matthew, when Jesus says, “Blessed are…” and we hear the beatitudes. What a nice word.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.