Celebrating a New Year in Fall

The beginning of the school year always felt like New Year to me. My feet, having been in sandals all summer, were suddenly crammed into tight new shoes. There were new pencils (with that great cedar-closet smell) and new crayons ( love the smell of fresh crayons) and paste (which also smelled good, but I was never tempted to taste it.) New teachers, new books, and a relief from summer’s heat.

Leaves. Pitt Pen, graphite and watercolor on watercolor paper.

When I lived in New England, the beginning of September marked a time when the days got noticeably shorter, and picked up speed. There was a red maple that turned colors first every year, starting around Labor Day.  The summers in New England were short and mild, and I was filled with a pang of longing when the September days grew shorter than the nippy September nights.

The Jewish New Year falls in September most years. It’s the first day of the 10 Days of Awe, and the mystics believe that on Rosh Hashanah (New Year), the Creator of the Universe opens the Book of Life and writes the names of those who will live for another year. On Yom Kippur, the last day of the celebration, and the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar, the book is closed. In the days between, the mystics say, we have a few precious days to reflect and make necessary changes.

Fall seed pods, watercolor pencil on paper.

On the two days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I take the day off and slow down. On the changing of seasons and the changing of lives. Tonight, I lit the candles and said the familiar blessing thanking the Creator for seeing us safely through the cycle of another year. I thought about the fading light that I once dreaded and now welcomed as the beginning of the season of outdoor eating, and planting–just when the rest of America is closing up the tables and pulling down the planters.

Soon the first migrating birds will arrive and bring us song and color and chattering and noise that we don’t hear in the summer.  In about two weeks a trailing cloud will drift to the West of Phoenix and meet with another one on the East as thousands of hummingbirds migrate to the Sky Islands South of Tucson. My three feeders will be drained twice a week.

I’ve started to walk again in the early morning, as the searing heat of summer has lifted. Well, it’s still over 100 degrees (F) in the daytime, but in the early morning, it is already 15 degrees cooler than five weeks ago.

The cycle of life goes on. There are more memory candles on the table this year, burning through the Days of Awe for the souls of those who died since last Yom Kippur. I am acutely aware that one day I my life will be represented by a candle on a table. And that day is not as far away as the years I have been lighting candles. It’s not something to fear, but it is something to remember.

Life, change, death. Nature presents them every year for us to notice. It’s hard not to think of dying when the leaves shrivel on the trees and pool is as warm as tea you leave to cool.

These are special days, the days that allow us to gracefully move from one season to the next. They are meant for reflection and planning, and welcoming change.

May everyone who reads this be written in the pages of the Book of Life for a year of growth, acceptance, courage and strength.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach, working on a book about the Inner Critic and noticing the time slide past her window.