September is a time of endings and beginnings. It’s when I can almost taste the smell of a rain-slicked street in a town long ago and feel the warm clasp of my mother’s hand as she takes me across the road. “Hurry, Annie, hurry!” I’m almost too excited to walk, knowing that we’re going shopping for school clothes.
Together we’d step out of the rain into the warm haven of McCallum’s Department Store where you could buy anything—soap, lawn chairs, socks, and more. We were there to look at outfits for school. I’d run my hand over the skirts, wanting each and every one, but finally choosing a pleated black-watch plaid and a crisp white blouse. On the way home, I’d cast an anxious eye at yellow school buses lurking on side roads, heralding the end of summer.
Today, no longer back-to-school shopping with my mom or for my own children, I open the window to breathe in the crisp September air and think about other endings and beginnings. It’s time to put my garden to bed, to anticipate the first snow on our ridge, and to wonder when the bears will den up so I can safely leave the bird feeders out overnight.
Yesterday, I took two fat heads of elephant garlic and separated them into pungent cloves. Going out to my vegetable plot, I used a small spade to dig a trench in the far end. One by one, I pushed the cloves into the ground and firmly patted the soil, marking the beginning and end of the row with sticks. A brown toad, hidden in the trench, heaves itself out of the dirt, reminding me that garlic isn’t the only thing growing in this soil. Next year in late summer, I’ll come out to harvest the garlic bounty on my knees.
With a sense of having observed a Sacrament in my garden, I came in to make tea and read Saint Augustine’s “Confessions” because what’s better for a season of endings and beginnings than Saint Augustine. He began life as a roistering lad and wound up serving as the Bishop of Hippo, full of wisdom, contrition for past ways, and the belief that God’s love would take him home.
I, too, used to be a roistering young person, unsure of my place in God’s creation and certainly not believing in God at the time. That would come later, beginning at Christ’s Church Cathedral in Oxford, England, while listening to Bach’s “St. John’s Passion.” That was when I finally let God into my heart and realized his utter sweetness.
As we look ahead to fall, I think about putting summer to bed, throwing those withered plants from the garden on the compost pile, and making a hot cup of tea while I think about the beginnings hidden in the season. I feel like that brown toad buried in the earth, waiting for spring, like the seeds of God’s love, tucked into our own deep soil.