This time of year -- actually, every seasonal change -- I find myself humming the songs I was used to in the Unitarian context where many of us were “immanentalists” if not simply nature worshippers. So my head has been resonating with “In Sweet Fields of Autumn.” The UU hymnals are full of pillage from other contexts -- usually a poem from here slapped together with a tune from there -- but the people who do this are often academics and carefully footnote where they got them. “Oh, I say,” I thought to myself (I’ve been watching too much BBC again) "I’ll look this up and find out what the origins are." It’s always been such a natural tune, as though I’d always known it.
And I had. But when I learned it , it was called “Away in the Manger” !
Full choir traditional version suitable for a cathedral. And you can download it. There are MANY versions in many styles on YouTube. The words in the UU hymnal are by Elizabeth Madison (b. 1883). To go farther, you’ll need a musicologist or a UU historian. But here are her words:
In sweet fields of autumn the gold grain is falling, the white clouds drift lonely, the wild swan is calling. Alas for the daisies, the tall fern and grasses, when wind sweep and rainfall fill low-lands and passes.
The snows of December shall fill windy hollow, the bleak rain trails after, and March wind shall follow. The deer through the valleys leave print of their going and diamonds of sleet mark the ridges of snowing.
The stillness of death shall stoop over the water, the plover sweep low where the pale streamlets falter; but deep in the earth clod the black seed is living; when spring sounds her bugles in rousing and giving.
The secret to this business of mating poetry with tune is a little formula the hymnal (Singing the Living Tradition) puts down in the bottom righthand corner: in this case, 188.8.131.52 It’s the meter. In the back of the hymnal is a list of the meters used, so if you know the meter of your poem, it’s simple to match it up with a tune.
Back to immanentalism, which in its more popular versions is simply nature worship. I think the difference between the two categories is a matter of sentimentalism. The nature worshippers don’t have much truck with the more destructive and human-hostile features like storms, volcanoes and earthquakes. They like things nice, which always makes me impatient. Niceness steals holiness.
Much as I love solstices, I think I turn to equinoxes -- which are transitional, bittersweet, unpredictable -- with more responsiveness. This last full moon was a bloody one here because of the fires in the Rockies where smoke rose from within the cordillera. We see the line of peaks against the sky and somehow assume it is a flat cut-out of one row but in fact it is a complex of ridges and valleys created when the land was shoved together by the underlying subductive tectonic plates. Now we’ve had a cold spell and a bit of rain which on the inner higher peaks of the mountains left snow. Just now there is a dark formless cloud over that way -- dunno what it means. But the nights are clear and extra starry because the moon rises late and when it does, it’s a silver scrap that lingers into morning. If you were lost in the wilderness with no warm clothing, you’d better have survival skills.
This month I ran out of metformin and money at the same time, so decided I would make a virtue of this pickle by converting it into an experiment: going cold turkey without meds. (Not very dramatic -- it’s only one pill a day.) Instead of turning my head away, I made a chart and have been taking blood sugar readings five and six times a day. Same diet as usual, but I added a little walk around our small civic park at bedtime which is often when my blood sugar is highest. That’s why I’ve been extra-aware of what the moon is doing.
The surprise is that my glucose readings are the same without medication! After two days I had a day of subtle malaise, rather like a reaction to a vaccination so I assume it meant that my inner community (I am a tower of micro-organisms) was adjusting. So far the same is true of my blood pressure -- normal readings. On Saturday I’ll go back to meds and see what happens. I am much supported in this sort of strategy by a number of people who are deeply interested in diet, their own body dynamics, and what a constant stream of data can reveal. It’s not idle, but it’s not quite academic or clinical either. I sort of hate to name the websites for fear people will pursue the information the way the media does: grab an implication and make it a marketing occasion, a “rule.”
But we do know that bodies adjust to the seasons. Day length, temps, changes in the vegetation and animal life of the ecology are deeply important. This morning I slept long and well because dreams follow bodies. It was a category I often visit: I am moving to a small community in foothills. It’s a combination of East Glacier, Heart Butte, a tiny house I lived in one summer in Browning, and a little place called Bridal Veil along the Columbia River that was a cluster of old logging camp housing. At the time I considered renting there (Seventies) it was run by a sort of hippie community. They didn’t think I’d fit in.
In this version of the dream I was staying with a family for a few days before moving into my new house. The new element was that I had a set of six or seven beaded buckskin dresses. They were mine, the woman of the house admired them and expressed a desire to have one of them, and I was considering whether to give it to her. You can interpret but it will be about you, not me. For me it is about transitions, time-driven so including aging, resources, community -- these are the forces that brought me to here and now. Sometimes I think I might be kind of a "Dog in the Manger" about it. Maybe I need a song.