“Tossing about, she increased her feverish bewilderment to madness, and tore the pillow with her teeth… she seemed to find childish diversion in pulling the feathers from the rents she had just made…
‘Ah, they put pigeons’ feathers in the pillows – no wonder I couldn’t die!’”
- Emily Bronte, Withering Heights, Chapter 12)
Yesterday: perfect breeze, 70F & 30% humidity, a taste of dry thyme on the tongue of the breeze. In the breeze there was also the faint hint of the rain before it falls. Today the rain came, the softest most gentle mist in the air all day long. A few moments ago, the sun peeked out briefly, became disappointed and left, leaving a slight steamy aftertaste in the air.
Such primal autumn smells awaken my memories of carefree childish trick or treat fever. Trick or treat sounds slightly more ominously threatening these days, but it wasn’t always so. Aging in real time is like a gathering of shadows lurking in the corners of memory’s field of vision. Lives often become darker as we age because we slowly lose sensory peripheral vision.
Tunnel vision is so narrow and confining, and it requires much forgetting. Memories, and the smells that trigger them for me, are like secret messages in time, stretching across my life to relax out the kinks. From past to future: remember happiness? From future to past: remember health! Echoing from Paleolithic futures that never were, to irretrievably lost pasts that might have been: happiness is hard. From the drunken lame lyrics of a bad rock song to the music of the spheres: Go slowly. Watch, listen, touch, taste, and smell on every channel of your life in every moment of your life.
Memories awakened by autumn’s dying breaths are borne on the winds of time, and recall a time when I was really alive and awake, not burdened by awareness of the diminishing future. My eyes somehow soften at such reveries, widening to the range and clarity of my visions then. The big picture is lovely, melancholy, bittersweet, and happy. But mostly, it’s BIG – like all stuff is when you’re 3 feet high, and you count your life in single digits. And life is more deeply rewarding when you use every sense to partake of it fully. How the hell did I forget that?
The mad woman tossing feathers in the attic tapped into this sense of what Abe Simpson calls “the gathering darkness” – the insanity of growing old. Her troubled dreams were all of seasons past. Remembering what it felt like then, to live in the present. Or perhaps it was because she couldn’t explain why loneliness is like death. Or perhaps because she understood how very alone we all become. Pigeon feathers reminded her of the times before we move out of that first soft nest feathered with the days of our childhood. “Pigeon feathers in the pillows.” The place where you lay your head, and where you dream, often of the past, sometimes of future, but rarely of the present.
Go outside and take several slow deep breaths of the air. After you remember the falling leaves of yesteryear, take a deep breath of today.