Early August, and the young butternut
is already dropping its leaves, the nuts
thud and ring on the tin roof,
the squirrels are everywhere.
Such richness! It means something to them
that this tree should seem so eager
to finish its business.
The voice softens, and word becomes air
the moment it is spoken. You finger the limp leaves.
Precisely to the degree that you have loved something:
a house, a woman, a bird, this tree, anything at all,
you are punished by time.
Like the tree,
I take myself by surprise.
[“At Summer’s End” by John Engels, from Sinking Creek. © The Lyons Press, 1998]
Do you have a tipping point? Do you have a moment in the course of the summer when, suddenly, you sense autumn’s inexorable return?
We are conditioned in any number of ways to respond to the change in seasons. If we live in insufferably hot and oppressive climes, the slide into fall may bring blessed relief. If we earn our living from the influx of summer tourists, the end of the summer may mean diminished income but also, perhaps, a chance to catch one’s breath. If we dance to the rhythm of an academic calendar, the advent of August may mean another kind of preparation.
For me, early August always puts me more firmly back in touch with the flow of Jewish time because it means I begin counting the weeks left before the tsunami-like arrival of the fall holy days that always seem to take me by surprise.
At times we encounter the passage of time as if we’re strolling through molasses; at other times, it feels like a white-knuckle kayak ride through white-water rapids. We would all do well to take a cue from the author of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) who taught that there is a time and a season for every purpose beneath the sun. As our summer unwinds slowly into the approach of autumn, and the approach of a new Jewish year, I wish for each of you opportunities to savor time as we are blessed to experience it at summer’s end on Cape Cod.