The Consolations of August

I love to have fresh flowers indoors. I mostly don’t have them, for two reasons: I dislike the entire industry of store-sold flowers; and I have a black-and-white cat who considers any bouquet he can reach a personal Edible Arrangement. Which will end up on the floor later in a different, less lovely form.

This summer, something has shifted. There was “buy flowers” and there was “don’t buy flowers,” but now there’s a third way. I’ve been learning,* in these months of profligate wild and garden blooming, to select, harvest, and arrange found flowers the way I do words on a page: slowly, with intention, and with a willingness to be surprised. (Also to place them on altars and side-tables, which the cat, getting older now, cannot access.)

Possibly the biggest surprise is how nourishing I find this practice.

High summer is my hard season. Heat, spiders, shut windows, unending breezeless days. All The Things we are all dealing with fall so much harder in August.

This is the time of year I really feel the vast indifference of the natural world. I don’t mean that exactly negatively, although the word indifferent is usually understood that way.

I mean that I can feel how the weather, the larger patterns of climate, and the ecosystem here in the Willamette Valley just don’t worry about me the way I do them.

I can feel how my desperation for relief (for cool air, ocean breezes, rain, my river, creatures remaining outside my house) isn’t important, outside of me and my family.

I can feel my brokenness, my exhaustion, and sometimes I’m so tired I have to just sit there with it, just do nothing. I can feel how I can’t do this on my own. It’s a species of relief.

The Christian monastic tradition has its deserts, its fastings and its goings-without, to force the human spirit toward this realization of the basic inadequacy of self alone. I have Portland in August.

I also have practices that draw me out of myself—now including this practice of inviting seasonal blossoms into my home.

Just for a few moments, I’m not only in this heat-swollen, breeze-craving, anxious body. I’m participating directly in other beings, co-creating something with them. Those few moments illumine a path. They say the relief of self-forgetting is possible.

And they bring beauty into my day, beauty I can’t control or create or add to. I just get to accept it.

I feel this way equally when I’m composing, or tending my weird and half-wild garden. I make as much time as I can to do all of these things every day.

When these things are purely pleasurable, say in April, I don’t feel them as consolations in the same deep way I do when I need them, when I am painfully aware of my need. The relief is equal to the amount of suffering it’s come to meet.

I wouldn’t want to feel like this all the time. These last few years I’ve come close, and it’s a sharp edge. But there is August to remind me of the lay of the land: there are peaks and valleys still. I cannot say I like this, but I think I am grateful for it.

And Lord how grateful I am for the earth’s glorious, indifferent blooming.

*The flower-learning comes from a class I took with Holly Wren Spaulding, founder of the Poetry Forge school. It’s titled (gorgeously) Oceans Without End, and the theme of it is ease, shimmering, the slow rewards of summer. You don’t need to identify as a poet to find wisdom and joy in this very accessible class.

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