August: The Fifth Season

August: The Fifth Season

In California, August is a kind of fallow month. The following excerpt from Farming Soul: A Tale of Initiation tells why:

Ash and the Fifth Season

In the Mediterranean-like climate of the Napa Valley, there is a period of summer dormancy that has is often called the fifth season. The grasses are dry and golden; the grapes in veraison but not yet ripe; and the lavender pruned into green mounds that will look this way until they send up stems late next spring. There is not much to do but think.

It was in August that Donald sustained what we thought was a back injury. We expected it to get better in a day or two, but instead the pain kept him awake for several nights running. He could no longer cut firewood or even lift the chainsaw. Natalio carried the recycling to the road and buckets of water to the goats on the evenings when I wasn’t available to do it.

Donald’s back kept getting worse, not better. His legs eventually became numb and his ankles swelled, the skin breaking. He lost his balance easily. Frightened by these strange symptoms, we visited various practitioners and received various opinions and treatment suggestions. We tried different things, but his condition would improve one day and get worse the next.

A darkening happened in my world. The ash of my parents reverberated in my body and I listened: Life is not forever. Donald and I are aging. We, too, will die. And I heard the question: Who will farm this land next?

When you farm biodynamically, this is a complicated question. You have made a promise to the land in using the biodynamic sprays, and the land and plants have become more sensitive to your thoughts and intention. To return the land to chemical farming methods is a betrayal. Donald and I were contemplating not only our own mortality, but the “death” of integrative farming practices on our beloved ranch.

* * *

Ash, according to the alchemists, is a substance from which the impurities have been burned off and which can be subjected to further processes to form the Philosopher’s Stone, the Stone esoteric circles call the subtle body or diamond body and Christians have named the glorified body. It is this part of us that survives the death of our physical and, therefore, corruptible bodies. Jung stated that the formation of this so-called body is our task during the second half of our lives.

Myth tells us that Zeus punished the Titans for eating the infant Dionysus by striking them with a lightning bolt, thereby reducing them to ash. Within this ash were particles of the divine infant, that symbol of the generative life force, and from them the human race was formed.

Do I carry the divinity of my parents within my own body? Does something of their individuality linger? What intimacy has been wrought upon me! I listen inwardly again and hear my father’s voice this time, saying: Let Jesse farm.

* * *

My father died on an August day in 2004, just before harvest. On that same day in August, but one hundred years earlier, my great-grandfather also died just before harvest. So in this month particularly, the house my great grandfather built in central Illinois and in which the family has lived continuously ever since, reverberates with disincarnate relatives. To me, the upstairs master bedroom is so loud with lights that it could be the Fourth of July.

And the smell! It is uniquely musty and otherworldly, occurring in certain spots in the master bedroom of the old family house and once in my own home after I returned from my mother’s memorial. As she was dying, I asked her to let me know she was okay when she got to the Other Side, and she said she would if she could. And she did, by surrounding me with the scent of the old Illinois homestead in my California kitchen!

It used to feel to my siblings and me like the dead were loitering eerily in their old haunts, but now their presence reassures us, their successors. Life and death are mysterious. The dead are all around, and their distinctive scent reminds my family of this. We call it the smell of the ancestors.

Our sense of smell comes from one of the oldest parts of our brains, and we mammals are what naturalist Lyall Watson calls “supersmellers.” We are also scent factories, besting even the flowers with the odors our warm bodies exude. We each have a unique olfactory signature that bloodhounds can readily identify, days and even months after we have been physically present in a particular place.[1]

We slough off forty million cells a day, some drying up, some persisting for possibly centuries. As a result, we all live in an invisible sea of such cells, the Divinity of Dionysus dancing among us and through us with every breath, collecting more of himself as he goes!

Is this the akashic record from which Norma T. claimed to “read” details of past lives, or the vast expanse of Jung’s collective unconscious? And is it some ancient part of our brains, with its potent ability to perceive odors, that informs us of these “matters”?

* * *

It took some time before an EKG revealed that Donald had suffered a silent heart attack. He embarked on a new exercise and diet regime and finally controlled his blood pressure with medication. It appears we have been given more time together.

Every August, though, I can’t help but contemplate life and death, the seen and unseen, and the pervasive presence of ash.


[1] Watson, p.215.