In Lieu of a Hug

Marking the heart of the harvest season (in this hemisphere, at least), the autumn equinox should be our Thanksgiving holiday.  That’s my contention, anyway.  Apples, grapes, blackberries, beans, ‘taters-precious, summer barley all ripe for picking and reaping . . . lots to be grateful for.

This is also when the Wheel turns to the dark of the year.

There are those who love the wonders of spring and summer best.  I love them dearly, but as I’m sure I’ve mentioned, every year at Mabon, a part of me I didn’t notice had fallen asleep stirs and rouses.  Every year as we pass this station of the sun, I suddenly re-attune to the magics of the dying of the year that, for me, feel far more palpable than the magics of its renewal.

I like to imagine that in times past, the harvest was a communal event with lots of hard work every day and lots of music, dance, songs, stories, poetry, food & drink, and love-making every night.

Daniel Leyniers II, “The Harvest” (1712-28); Flemish Tapestry

Times have changed.  No gatherings in ‘Murica this year.  Well, none except for the protests and the militarized responses to them, the freedom-not-masks COVID denier events (church services, rallies, weddings & funerals, whatevers), sports, back-to-school curricular and extra-curricular activities, and the “just tired of it” crowd’s BBQs, birthday celebrations, pool parties, and back-to-normal weekends out and about.

Tangent Alert: Despite the alternate facts that have spread and are still spreading on social media, it has been conclusively proven that BLM protests have NOT exacerbated the spread of COVID-19.  Conversely, COVID-19 cases have surged dramatically after every holiday (Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day), a single wedding in Maine was responsible for reversing the entire state’s progress against the virus, across the nation schools and colleges opened, then had to quickly shut down again after large numbers of students and staff immediately tested positive, and in our county, certainly, the #1 cause of COVID’s continuing spread is small “safe” gatherings of friends & family to watch the big game or celebrate little Ashley’s 1st tooth.

In my mostly COVID-conscious corner of the nation, all music, dancing, singing, storytelling, and recitals of poetry are streamed or Zoomed.  Those of us sheltering with someone we love still have the love-making option available.  But too many of you reading this haven’t had so much as a hug in 7 months.

Can’t give you that hug, but I do have an autumnal poem to share with you in honor of Equinox Eve.

There are several fit the bill, and two that came in a close third and second. To give the runners-up their due . . .

Maggie Smith, Studio 127 Photography

Maggie Smith’s First Fall really spoke to me, but her ending:

. . . I’m desperate for you / To love the world because I brought you here.

triggers my guilt at being part of the generation that — barring several miracles — has doomed our children and grandchildren to live with economic oppression, under authoritarian rule, and on the brink of planetary destruction.

Robert Louis Stevenson by Henry W. Barnett

Perhaps because I was introduced to him early on (“My Shadow” was one of the first poems I remember hearing as a child, definitely one of the first I could recite from memory), perhaps because he later fed my craving for swashbuckling adventure with Treasure Island and Kidnapped, I’ve always been fond of Robert Louis Stevenson.  “Autumn Fires” (from A Child’s Garden of Verses) is a marvelous homage to the season. Unfortunately, the lines

The red fire blazes, / The grey smoke towers.


Flowers in the summer, / Fires in the fall!

resound with depressing accuracy in this climate-changed locale.  And tonight I refuse to succumb to wildfire depression.  In fact, I’m optimistically expecting the sea breezes that have already cleared the air a town over to cross the ridge and do the same for us.

Without more ado, here it is: a poem for this night.  May it please you, and blessed be.



Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;

Lengthen night and shorten day;

Every leaf speaks bliss to me,

Fluttering from the autumn tree.

I shall smile when wreaths of snow

Blossom where the rose should grow;

I shall sing when night’s decay

Ushers in a drearier day.

Emily Brontë (1818-1848)

circa 1835: English poet and author of ‘Wuthering Heights’, Emily Bronte (1818 – 1848). Original Artwork: Painting by Charlotte Bronte. (Photo by Rischgitz/Getty Images)

10 thoughts on “In Lieu of a Hug”

  1. (Sorry–couldn’t help myself. I’m a kindred Autumn spirit ♥)


    I expect it to rain any day.
    The season is drifting closer
    to precipitation,
    as gray clouds mingle with white,
    and the fragrance of damp
    hangs subtly in the air.

    Trees that are now bare
    have been denuded of
    ruddy ochre foliage.
    Brushed to the ground by warm winds,
    it tumbles down the street,
    gathering in gutters high and low.

    It is worse than shoveling snow,
    raking autumn leaves and
    building them into piles.
    The breeze keeps them in motion,
    sends them skipping and swirling,
    and only children can pin them down.

    When smog is unstirring about the town,
    and clouds are not overarching the earth,
    the sun shines low, hot, and dusty.
    Its heat clings to clothes and skin,
    making sweat run and breathing unpleasant.
    The last of summer is the worst of fall.

    The dark comes sooner and casts a pall.
    Haze smolders in leaf mounds.
    Logs are stacked by the sides of houses.
    Smoke is beginning
    to rise from chimneys;
    and a chill has settled for the night.

    A candle in the window seems bright
    compared to the dust-covered porch bulb.
    A spider has woven its web across eaves.
    Rotund gourds line the stairs,
    their faces ghoulishly carved
    and soon to be lit from within.

    All Souls’ Day will come and akin,
    Samhain celebrations on its heels.
    We’ll raise our cups of cider ale,
    and toast the venerable ancestors,
    then read the cards, and cast the runes,
    hoping there’ll be luck for all.

    And here is what we’ll learn from fall:
    that hard work yields the harvest,
    that all lives will come to pass,
    that the wheel of the year
    does not turn sharply,
    but in its own time will give way . . .

    . . . I expect it to rain any day.

    • Sorry? SORRY?!? For sharing an absolutely exquisite, impeccably apt, entirely magical JAG original with us? puh-LEEZ!!!
      I had to chuckle a bit at “It is worse than shoveling snow,/ raking autumn leaves and/ building them into piles…” as just yesterday my honey was fondly remembering that, in his youth, this would have been the time to rake leaves into piles and then jump in them — the best fun ever. But, as with James Whitcomb Riley’s “Thanksgiving” (also shared in these comments, I’m proud to say), it’s the last verse that hits home. I can’t find the right words, but the metaphorical connection between fall and the “autumn” of our lives brings us inevitably to what we have learned. The true harvest is the wisdom we reap from the season.

  2. Thank you Risa, what a lovely way to start on this first day of Autumn. Squirrels are out & about busy burying their walnuts, which I hide for them for Mopsie’s entertainment (she watches thru the window on a perch that I built for her). Grape & oak leaves are falling & the sun angle dramatically changes each morning. So glorious to have blue skies again & hopefully hereon after.
    Thanks for your wonderful & thoughtful outreach.
    Love to you & my bro, Roy, Adrian

    • You must have “heard” me thinking about you as I wrote, knowing we’re sharing the same corner of the world. And the air DID clear!! Thanks for the read <3. I've passed on your love to Roy. You do the same with mine to Mary.

  3. I did not have anything to contribute to your last post because I live in an area that is just recovering from fires that were close to our home and little town, yet in an area that was too rough and steep for the forest service to combat the fires. They could only watch the perimeter until the fires died naturally. I was too numb to have a comment and you said it all.

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for “In Lieu of a Hug” and Thanksgiving as a topic.
    It is so restful.

    Immediately upon reading the post an ancestor of mine jumped to mind.

    James Whitcomb Riley is a three times great uncle on my mother’s side. I love his poetry’s unsophisticated and direct approach to almost everything in the life of yesteryear.

    Here is his take on being thankful.


    Let us be thankful—not only because
    Since last our universal thanks were told
    We have grown greater in the world’s applause,
    And fortune’s newer smiles surpass the old—

    But thankful for all things that come as alms
    From out the open hand of Providence:—
    The winter clouds and storms—the summer calms—
    The sleepless dread—the drowse of indolence.

    Let us be thankful—thankful for the prayers
    Whose gracious answers were long, long delayed,
    That they might fall upon us unawares,
    And bless us, as in greater need we prayed.

    Let us be thankful for the loyal hand
    That love held out in welcome to our own,
    When love and only love could understand
    The need of touches we had never known.

    Let us be thankful for the longing eyes
    That gave their secret to us as they wept,
    Yet in return found, with a sweet surprise,
    Love’s touch upon their lids, and, smiling, slept.

    And let us, too, be thankful that the tears
    Of sorrow have not all been drained away,
    That through them still, for all the coming years,
    We may look on the dead face of To-day.

    James Whitcomb Riley – 1849-1916

    (This poem is in the public domain)

    • James Whitcomb Riley? THE James Whitcomb Riley? James Whitcomb Riley who wrote (well, countless things, but particularly) “The Raggedy Man” and “Little Orphant Annie” that was my absolute drop-dead favorite poem as a child — the VERY first one I learnt by heart
      An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you
      Ef you
      that I made my mother read over and over and over again from her childhood missal, The Little Green Book of Poetry (with Arthur Rackham’s silhouette illustrations, a book I treasured all my life and still mourn (it was lost in our house fire back in 2012)? James Whitcomb Riley who almost certainly inspired my lifelong passion for accents and dialect? Indiana home-grown “the poet of the people” James Whitcomb Riley?!?
      Apparently your ability to effortlessly turn a phrase is genetic.
      “Thanksgiving” is utterly new to me . . . and utterly perfect. So poignant, so true. I’ve read it to myself and aloud now several times, and I find myself lingering each time on the penultimate verse. Deepest thanks for sharing this. What a gift!
      I’m also so thankful you made it through the recent fires in your area. I’m really not sure how to process the fact that the entire western third of our nation is fast becoming scarce more than climate-changed tinder. Stay safe!!


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