Honoring The Fallen
Autumn leaves in all their astonishing colors, from vivid brilliance to subfusk murk, make my heart sing. My grandkids and I love to gather them up and make patchwork edges to garden paths and entryways. On my daily walks, I feel like I’m treading on a tapestry richer than anything human arts can devise. I still love to kick my way through the heaps of leaves that gather along sidewalks and curbs, enjoying the satisfying crunch as much as the visual glory. You don’t even need to look up to know what you’re walking near; golden coins of poplar scatter in a glowing carpet, first joined then overtaken by burning stars of sweetgum which give way to toast tinted elm leaves and gilded sparks of birch. The pavement becomes the canvas for a natural artwork that changes with the wind.
As October shifts into November, I love to create leafy ofrendas, both in the garden and in public places. For years now, I’ve been making them at our local art museum, whose annual ofrenda event spans the last gasp of October and the birth of November. It marks the Day Of The Dead, honoring All Saints and All Souls in a joyful, sorrowful celebration full of offerings and memories, feasts and music, and many, many flowers. Since our climate isn’t able to produce marigolds (the traditional ofrenda flower) in autumn, people make do with flowers of all kinds for the ofrenda altar itself. Outside, friends and I’ve been making great sweeping wings of foliage and flowers that welcome visitors like open arms.
Wings Of Welcome
These wings have a base of cedar and sequoia which hold less weighty plants in place. We blend brown bracken and deep green sword fern fronds, fresh fall flowers with fading summer blooms, crisp brown oak leaves with dazzling maple leaves. This year, frosty mornings nipped the dahlias and local growers sent us armloads of still-lovely blossoms as well as browning, battered ones. Gardeners brought masses of hydrangeas which shifted the palette from browns and golds to soft blues and rosy pinks.
This year, we had an arch to work with which we imagined as a gateway to the Day Of The Dead and an honoring of the Death of Summer. Tall sheafs of spent flowers made a tracery against the sky like the bare branches of trees in winter. Below them, we wove summery remnants into mosaics with flowers and foliage, berries and moss, lichens and curls of peeling bark. Made to last just a few days, these vignettes are poignant reminders of seasonal change, the more lovely for being vulnerable to wind and rain. Like sand mandelas that are finished, observed, then swept away, these temporary artworks don’t need longevity to make them valuable. For me, both making and seeing these assemblages brings joy, reminding me to be grateful for the glory. In these dark days, it feels healthy and healing and important for the culture and the planet for us all to take joy wherever possible. Not to grab it grimly and hold tight as long a possible, but to appreciate joy and beauty and gratefulness for even a few fleeting moments. Onward, right?