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Monday Photo Meditation: A Time for Old Ways


As we move deeper into autumn, winter now not far away, I find my thoughts returning, again and again, to the places and spaces, the ways of doing and being, of my childhood.

This is not a new phenomenon; the place that was my childhood home remains alive in my heart, but the memories are mostly of fall and winter. It begins, invariably, with the subseason we call “back to school” and runs through the holidays into the new year and the coldest, deepest snows of winter. But this year, as we begin the process of moving, at long last, into our home, it has taken on a new renewed intensity: The memories are more vivid, more haunting, and they are accompanied by a renewed appreciation of old days and old ways.

In years past, I have used this space at this week to explore spirits scary and otherwise, the masks we wear and the roles we assume, the trappings of, if not precisely Halloween, at least autumnal harvest markers of this time of All Souls’. This year, such souls are much on my mind, but we will mark the time differently. My focus these days is less on monsters than on mores, less on horror than on history . . . but even so, there is an element of the eerie still about it. It is perhaps not so much the haunting of stereotypical ghosts as it is of the melancholy of memory, but it still holds the power to disquiet, if only for the ways in which we have tended to forget, attenuating our existence from that which birthed us years, generations, centuries, millennia ago.

But this is a time to remember. This is a time for old ways.

And despite the mountainous landscape so unlike the small hills and great lakes of my lands, this image Wings captured a decade or so ago always reminds me, again, of home.

Part of it, no doubt, is the fall color; part of it, too, is the obvious haying, although the large round bales are a rater newer invention than those I recall. Round bales existed, of course, the first such baler having been invented in 1910 and first mass-produced in 1947, but for people such as us, such technology remained far out of reach. Even now, on our own small plot of land here, our hay is gathered into old-fashioned small rectangular bales. My grandfather ran a threshing business during and after the Depression; my father grew up with and on the machinery. In his older years, my father made, out of wood, life-like replicas of the Rumley Oil-Pull tractors they used. I grew up amid the products and processes of such times and ways.

But it is perhaps the barn that most reminds me of old times and places: a small wood-framed structure with rough dark siding, the building now old enough to be listing sideways at an angle far exceeding that of the slope on which it was built, yet still standing strong despite it all. Board and roof alike are weathered, and I know what the sheet metal will sound like in the rain. The fence, too, is from an older time, although such boundaries are no artifact here: In this place, we still build our fences in the old way, with rough-hewn logs and bits of wire, all bound together by hand.

We are people whose spirits are braided inextricably with the past, even as our present is one that looks unwaveringly forward, mindful of our responsibility to future generations. It is not a question of being stuck in the past, or living in it, but rather, one of learning from it, appreciating its lessons and finding the immanent value in what it has to teach us.

The leaves are near gone, the time of All Souls’ is here, and winter is nigh. It is a time for old ways.

~ Aji










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