On a late August hike, look for the constellation Orion in the sky; watch out for shiny green acorns that will roll beneath your feet like marbles; revel in the golden yellow coneflowers and cheerful white starry campion; and look for the striking, elaborate webs of the orb-weavers, the fierce-looking but harmless spiders whose creations are often the first reminder that it’s almost time for summer to go.
Our farewell to summer was a hike to the summit of Flat Top Mountain, then down its slopes to Fallingwater Cascades. Every hike is about nature’s ceaseless changes but with August, more so than any other month, you can feel its end even as it starts. Early in the month the brown-tipped grass, the first watermelons from the garden, the fleeting visit of the monarch butterfly, all signal what is to come.
I don’t know exactly when this photograph of my grandparents was taken, but based on the height of the corn it may well have been August. They’re both gone now, after lives full of incredible love and some of the deepest pain life can bring. Their happy young faces know none of the dark chapters that would come (my grandfather’s expression in this photo has always looked to me like he is still processing how he managed to get so lucky). It’s all there, though. If I had been there on that day I couldn’t have seen it either, but I can look into their eyes across the years and see their unending and unconditional love for each other and their children; the loss of a young adult son I never had a chance to know as uncle; the endless batches of cookies, the beautiful Christmases; the moments of disappointment and of pride; the cancer, and the Alzheimer’s.
Many of life’s changes start with tiny movements in the land beneath your feet, which you never notice until the day you realize the entire world you lived in has quietly shifted. Other changes come like landslides, swift and sudden, and some are giant boulders that tumble irrevocably into your path, remaining as ever-present monoliths for a lifetime.
This past year has been a time of enormous change for me. The things we believe to be unshakeable can, in fact, be shaken. We know intellectually that nothing is permanent, but the rockslides that bring us empirical reminders also remind us of our self-delusions, even the ones we thought we’d cured ourselves of long ago. In the natural world landslides can muddy rivers and streams for days, months, and even years. As sentient beings we have a bit more control, though the work can be hard.
So August is going, and summer is going, and sooner than we want to believe everything else is going too. Someday even Flat Top Mountain will be just a small hillock, and Fallingwater Creek will dry up, and something even more beautiful will take their places. We can’t imagine it, and we won’t be here to see it. Deep inhale. Take the leap, give it everything you’ve got, take the briar with the rose, take leave of what you love, and then let go. Repeat until the water runs clear.