Sunday, August 1, 2010

Lammas again

Yep, same as last year--I like the rhythm of the year.

The sunlight diminishes perceptibly now. The plants know.

The past week we've eaten deep purple eggplants and bright pink brandywine tomatoes, yellow summer squash and green-and-red striped beans. Today we will pick basil for pesto, some for tonight, some for February. A bowl full of ripe blueberries waits for us, sunlight incarnate.

But the sunlight is dying, and the plants know.

We do not speak of religion in class, at least not formally, though students will occasionally ask religious questions, and I will deflect them. I explain that some things cannot be known through science, and that what I believe beyond the limits of science falls outside the province of class.

In class we talk of light and hormones, photoperiods and abscisic acids, to explain how plants know. We talk under the hum of fluorescent lights, time marked by defined blocks of time. In class, September light is exactly the same as February light, and class is always 48 minutes long, no matter where the sun sits.

Sunset today marks the start of Lammas, or Loaf Mass Day--joy for the harvests that are coming and regret for waning sunlight. Lammas used to be celebrated--the first wheat berries of the year were ground into flour and baked into bread offered in thanks, some used for Communion, some for the feast that followed.

We thank God (or Tailtiu or Lugh or some other forgotten gods)--harvest time reflects death and grace, whatever the culture. Death and grace feel foreign in the classroom, indeed foreign in our culture. We pretend, at our peril, that life is linear.

Lammas falls halfway between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. The days are shortening, winter is coming. Until you feel the seasons in your bones, until you follow a grain of wheat from the ground to plant to bread to you then back to the ground again, the modern myths may be enough.

Science can explain why plants produce fruit when they do, and I can teach the steps. We can test whether a student learns what I present, and the students that do this best have access to all our culture offers.

You can become very powerful, very rich, without knowing grace. You can go far in life if blessed with intelligence and beauty, degrees and citations, without ever knowing what a wheat berry looks like, without ever kneading a lump of flour and water and yeast into glistening dough.

In the end, we don't know much, and may never know much. We can, however, recognize grace. We might not grasp it rationally, but we we can grasp it--a good reason to celebrate Lammas.

The Skeleton of Death dances every hour in Prague--photo of the Prague Astronomical Clock by Sandy Smith found on VirtualTourist.


Louise Maine said...

I wonder how many people noticed the waning daylight? I do. As an early riser, I see it. My dogs though like to be walked at exactly the same time whether it is dark outside or not! As an avid gardener with a huge garden, the tending of weeds slows and the harvesting begins. Bittersweet as the time for gardening diminishes but the time spent canning increases! My son longs for winter right now and I like to enjoy the changes that happen between now and then. I can't help but wonder of the way nature prepares and spend time staring to take it all in. In MI, there are Venetian Festivals all over the western part along Lake MI. They occur this time of year and include a blessing of the water and thankfulness of the harvest. Each community as a specialty such as a different fruit and the first harvests are brought in. Thanks for bringing back all the memories!

John Spencer said...

One of the hardest things about having kids is that I can't watch the sunsets. We have a bed time. The boys fall asleep when it's dark, but go to bed when it's seven thirty.

However, I notice it in the morning. I'm up at four or five each morning. I don't use an alarm clock. I watch the sun rise later. People gush about sun sets and they are certainly more vivid, but a sun rise when your back yard faces southeast is amazing.

As far as gardening, the corn is gone, the tomatoes are still going strong and I'm starting to look forward to the cooler plants of pumpkin and lettuce and whatever else Christy decides.

The Science Goddess said...

Yo! Doyle! What's your email address? Can you send it to me at the_science_goddess[at]yahoo[dot]com or post your contact info on the sidebar?

I think I have a gift for your sophs and you...

doyle said...

Dear Louise,

It's not just the waning daylight--the shadows move slowly and surely.

Children notice.

We teach them to forget, to stop questioning, to stop staring at the sun.

Always glad to see your words.

Dear John,

I love sunrises. Always have. Love sunsets, too, but I've always liked beginnings more than endings.

You are amazingly blessed to have Christy in your life.

Dear Science Goddess.

And thanks!

Kelly said...

Younger son exclaimed about it's being 9:43PM and the sky was dark, on August 1...We notice light here in the Northwest...its growth, and its shadows. While I long for hibernation, the weakening light feels sad, and isolating.

Excellent post - thank you.

Kelly said...

...and, I wonder if we get the word "lament" from Lammas....going to go look that up...

Kathryn J said...

So Lammas is the mid-summer equivalent of Candlemas. I have many shadows that I watch and also a few window-framed sunbeams that start moving quickly this time of year. For me, the waning light is compensated for by delicious, hot, humid days.

Thank you for the reminder to celebrate the abundance that happens during Lammas!

doyle said...

Dear Kelly,

"Lammas" comes from "Loaf Mass," which reflects the practice of donating the bread baked from the first harvest to the Church.

I used to be amazed by what children observe, but am now more amazed at how little adults see.

Dear Kathryn,

The lovely days of summer do take some of the sting out--I still get a little spooked in August from the diminishing light.

I love the idea of Lammas--it's sad how disconnected we've become.