The Cycle of Years

clouds2September is a month of knowing. Summer is over. The days become visibly shorter, by about three minutes a day, early in the month. Leaves turn a defeated green on their way to orange. Summer, the time of year that reminds us of laughter and fun and childhood, is over. Fall, with the hint of the knowledge of death, with its cool dawns and promise of fog, steps up from the horizon.

That is a memory.

clouds1My reality today is different. September is a promise that the white blazing heat of summer won’t last forever. September is a shadow that falls across the pool, cooling the water in tiny increments with with a steady determination. The water goes from tea-warm to body temperature, to cool, to crisp. By the end of September, there won’t be long swims, there will be fast daring dips, to prove we can swim till October. In September, I can start to walk again, free of the gym and the equipment. September is the gate that opens the door to the world again.

Fencepost cactus, about to bloom. The flowers are so large and generous for the climate.

Fencepost cactus, about to bloom. The flowers are so large and generous for the climate.

And in September, the New Year starts. I know, New Year comes in the middle of winter, in January. But not for me and the tribes that follow the calendar of the moon; whose sons and daughters were slaves first and nomads next. For us, the summer signals the end of one year with the harvest, and the beginning of the year in the fall, when the fruits are canned, the grain in the barn,  and the hard work of the fields behind us for the year.  And still, I live in a city, where there are no fields, except in the memory and in the thread that connects the tribe scattered across the globe.

Tonight, I lit candles, covered my eyes and said the prayer that brings in the New Year, ” Blessed is the Creator of the universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us and brought us through the circle of the year to reach this season once more.”

For us, the next week are the days of awe, a slowing of time, a stretch to think about the certainty of death and the possibility of life. It’s a good time to think about the next step in life. What do we choose to bring with us? What needs to be put down, to no longer burden us with a weighted soul or regret? In the next week, the Book of Life is open, and our destiny is written. It doesn’t matter if it’s a metaphor, the days are getting shorter and reminding us of our limited time.

Death cannot be avoided, so it’s best not to fear it. And better still to plan a rich, generous and creative life for the days ahead.

To the nomads among you, Happy New Year. Celebrations are not exclusive or limited. They are for anyone who wants to be more fully alive and creative. The Creator of the Universe is not some unknown, it is you. We create our own universes. Create well and live well. May the coming year be sweet and generous to you.

-Quinn McDonald loves the solemnity and joy of Rosh Hashanah.


Wabi-Sabi: A simple life

The moon lay on her back in the sky, her thin ivory rim tipped up. Cupped gently in her hollow was the indigo sky, dotted with stars. Two straight lines stitched past the horns of the moon. They were contrails, side-lit by the bright, reflected light. Next to the contrails is the constellation Orion. I always look for it when I walk at night. Often I can just see the belt. Tonight I could see the entire constellation: the powerful Hunter standing next to the river Eridanus with his two hunting dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor, fighting Taurus, the bull. In the early Spring, the constellation is overhead when I walk at night, at an angle I have to search for.

OrionThis morning, I watched the moon get tangled in a palm tree, and later in a new-leafed tree. I like walking late at night and early in the morning. The sidewalks are deserted. In the distance, I can hear a train whistle calling as it crosses the street grade and races into the blank and mountainous desert. Who is on the train? Where are they going at night, where will they wake up?

In the next block the first faint trace of orange blossom appeared and vanished over a block wall. In the dark,  I could just see the first blossoms on an orange tree. I know the smell from perfumes, but no perfume has such a rich, deep green smell that carries the hope of summer’s glowing ember oranges. I touched one of the polished, shiny leaves, black in the pre-dawn. moon

The houses have their curtains drawn. I could hear faint sounds from the TVs. Someone was watching explosions and laughing. In the next house someone was screeching on a reality show.  I kept walking through the chilly, shining air. This was my gift alone. In two months it will be warm this time of morning.

I have chosen this life–right now it is hard. I work too much. I don’t spend enough time in the studio. My house is not clean and polished, there is laundry to do. But walking through the night with all five senses is a feast I find indescribably peaceful. I feel alive and aware. I am in one moment at a time. It is an enormous gift to see all this, to taste it, touch it, to hear the sounds of the desert. I am grateful. The people who are in front of the TV will never know this, but they are satisfied, too. They don’t want to be walking outside in the dark. I’m glad for their comfort and glad for my own experience.

And in that second of peace, I know the heart of wabi-sabi.

Images: Orion:  Moon:

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at

Adapting to the desert

There don’t seem to be a lot of birds in the desert. There are pigeons and ravens, crows and grackles. Grackles are much like crows, but leaner, and the females are brown. They are successful because they adapt quickly. Now that summer is over, there are very few insects around. And crackles are insect eaters. One of their adaptations is to develop a taste for other foods. They hang around dumpsters, much like sea gulls on the East Coast.

grackle.jpgBut they have learned to let cars catch insects for them. Drive into a parking lot, and a raven lands on your hood. If the hood isn’t warm, you haven’t driven far enough to warm up their feet. They leave. A warm engine means you’ve driven far enough to catch bugs.

After they land on the hood and decide you’ve got insects in your wipers, they hop up to your windshield wipers and clean up any fresh bugs that haven’t dried up yet.

The first few times this happened, it was a little too Tippy Hedren for me. Then I saw what they were doing and I was amazed. Adaptation is a form of intelligence that keeps a species alive. You don’t see grackles complaining that the insects have left. Nope. They scare the bejeezus out of you and fend for themselves.

–Quinn McDonald watches nature and learns her own lessons. See her work at (c) 2007 All rights reserved. Image: Quinn McDonald.