Sitting on my back porch, there is that familiar chill just barely in the air. Fall is coming, and while it signals an ending – leaves will fall and soon thereafter, so will snow -- it always feels like a new start. A do over. A time to begin again with clean, empty notebooks and new ideas. It’s like January, but with better weather.
Passing earnest parents and eager children with shiny new backpacks at bus stops all over town, I feel the need to make lists, set goals, buy new desk supplies for myself and label them all with Sharpie pens. I instinctively look at the calendar and mark dates for the new school year, even though my “students” are now 21 and 24 years old. What will I do when they are both out of school next year? Maybe I’ll just make note of the bulk garbage pickup days for the coming year.
A few weeks ago, I brought my last child to college; it was the end of an era for that ritual of packing up the car, heading far, far away, (each of my kids chose colleges out of state), nesting her up, ordering pizza and eating it on the floor or the bed or, in this last case, the pretty decent Walmart dining room table. We spend a couple of days talking about goals for the year, classes chosen, how to roast a chicken and turn it into 3 meals for the week, and figure out when will she come home next. Releasing, letting go. Again. “Love you forever … bye! Make good choices! Don’t shame the family!”
Down on the farm, the fall ritual is very much the same. Yearling horses which were weaned last fall have spent the past twelve months frolicking, living, running, fighting and playing in single-sex fenced-in paddocks with simple “run-in barns” available for them to retreat from the sun or the cold and eat some hay, boys on one side, girls on the other, like Catholic high schools. Now, after learning the ropes of living without their mothers, these young adults are brought inside the big barns for the first time. Unlike the run-in barns, these barns have individual stalls with doors, something that none of these youngins are used to. Walking into the barn a few weeks ago, the stalls were teeming with noisy young horses, unsettled with excitement, fear, agitation and bewilderment. These young fillies and colts went from nursing from their mothers last summer to living together in a wild herd over the past year. Now they are getting ready to go to the big yearling horse sales and they have to learn their manners, learn how to be led, wear a halter, learn how to be alone in a stall, to eat out of a feed bowl, and act civilized. Once they are sold to new owners, most will then be taught how to be race horses, trotters. It’s like horses going to college, without the pizza.
Another ritual of my autumn is my annual Slugfest reunion with my college pals. When it began, some thirty-three years ago, it was a summer affair where we sat on the dock lakeside in upper Minnesota, drank cheap beer and talked and laughed all weekend long. Once we started having children, our schedules became full of swim meets, little league games and family vacations and so our reunions moved to the autumn. Somewhere along the line, at the end of the weekend, we began to make Slug resolutions, or as we like to say, “un-goal goals.” Being good friends and not wanting to burden each other with guilt or pressure, we soft peddled our expectations. Each year, any one of us will say, “By this time next year, if I feel like it, I will entertain the idea of possibly thinking about accomplishing _____ … maybe.” These un-goal goals range from lofty (getting an MBA, moving to a new city, changing jobs, getting yoga certified or training for a marathon) to the mundane (cleaning out the basement, organizing family photos, learning how to play the ukulele, or writing a blog).
I’ve got a long list of things that I haven’t gotten around to accomplishing yet, that roll over from one year to the next: learn conversational German and Italian, organize my photos (that’s thirty years’ running now), clean out my basement (just about as long), lose ten pounds. And my bar keeps getting lower; getting a good night’s sleep at least once a week and not suffering fools for one second are at the top of this year’s list. But also write more, travel more, seize every mother grabbing day. And on the Zen side: do more yoga, meditate more, be present because Life changes quickly. I am throwing a new one on the heap that feels a little lofty: think about thinking about possibly learning about podcasting. We’ll see …
By the time I finish my Slugfest reunion, I will come home rested, rejuvenated and inspired … just in time for Halloween, then it’s November, Thanksgiving, Christmas and yes, the new year. Perhaps I will have checked off a few of my “to do’s” by then?
I can tell you right now, probably not.
That’s what New Year’s Resolutions are for.