Shifting Gears

I like being a denizen of the temperate zones. I appreciate that the seasons here, dictated by my position on the globe, are so distinct. Watching the gradual cycling of weather, light, foliage, and animal activity has helped train me in the habit of attentiveness. Yes, I’ll think, there go the oak trees, turning to rust; or That damp dirt sure smells like spring.

In addition to teaching me where I might direct my gaze for a fresh detail that wasn’t there yesterday or last week, this seasonality shapes the year with a physical rhythm. When the days are long and the weather is fine, the landscape beckons my mind outward with scent and color and activity. And since most of my warm-season gotta-do chores and fun diversions—gardening, hiking, playing with the horses—are of the hands-on variety, I get my workouts outside, too.

As Thanksgiving approaches, the landscape has settled into relative dormancy. A stroll down the road or a glance out the window reveals a familiar two-tone patchwork of tawny grasslands and dark evergreens, largely unchanged over the last six weeks. I’m done weeding for the year. The garden has been picked over, dug up, and pulled. Hay and firewood have been stacked in their respective sheds. Snow from our first and so-far-only storm melted weeks ago. With nothing to shovel and nothing to plow, the slow fade of fall into winter is marked primarily by an internal shift, an inclination to ponder rather than do. I feel my perspective curling inward.

The daily rituals of building the fire and closing the window blinds against the dark beyond the chilly glass reinforce this inward-drawing impulse. These are protective gestures, the defensive nesting behaviors of an animal who lives in a place where the winters can be hard.

This pulling in isn’t an impulse to shut out the world. On the contrary, I’ve been feeling a peculiar restlessness lately. This yearning is part of my annual pattern, too, even though I’m often slow to remember that this particular craving means my brain is hungry, not for sensation, but for ideas. Instead of fixing on my physical reality, my neurons are inclined to interact in a more deliberate and moderated way, through the written world.

It’s reading season. It’s the writing time of year.

There will be challenges and distractions, as always. There will be errands to run, horses to feed, meals to cook. The indexing projects that make up my working life will continue to arrive on schedules not of my choosing, with occasional periods like the past month, when multiple projects arrived one atop the other to commandeer my waking hours. Now, though, with external deadlines largely satisfied, I’m settling in to spend time with myself.

I am not always the best company. In this transition period, especially, I am out of practice and frequently out of sorts. I’m highly distractible, and although I’ve been looking forward to this time, I’m prone to fits of petulance. The work doesn’t make demands on my biceps and hamstrings, but that doesn’t mean it’s effortless. My expectations right now outstrip my capacity for diligence and focus. Composing anything longer than 900 words seems difficult beyond reason. Knowing that research is a valid part of the process, I offer my brain a book from a long-neglected stack. It soon wanders off, accustomed to the quick resolution of short articles in magazines or online.

My brain, while ready to work in theory, needs time and conditioning. My home place is wondrous and beautiful, but the irony is that an abundance of sensory riches can induce mental flabbiness. I don’t have to work very hard to find something to marvel over—all I have to do is look outside. What’s called for now, though, is patient thought and long-form attentiveness. I don’t have the luxury of simply noticing and describing, I need to tease out connections and test arguments. I need to write, and rewrite, and edit. And then do so again…and again…and again.IMG_3067

It’s slow going. I groan when I arrive at my desk in the morning to find the same unresolved pages I started with yesterday. It’s early, though. Winter hasn’t taken hold, not really. The season for hunkering down in the interior landscape is just getting underway. I stretch, brew some tea, sit down again. The fire is lit. The wood is stacked and waiting.

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