October 3, 2015
Last Wednesday morning I went to the market. On that first day of fall, the market was a symphony of tomatoes, apples, eggplants, zucchini, chrysanthemums, basil and broccoli. As always, it was a feast for my senses and I was filled with gratitude, as I am each week, at my good fortune of living near Montreal's famous Marche Jean Talon.
I spent the afternoon in the kitchen, and didn't even mind doing so. As long as the frequency isn't more than once a week, I'm ok working for a couple extra hours (on top of my usual kitchen duties); chopping, saucing, freezing, drying, or whatever else needs to be done to make best use of that week's market haul.
I don't purposely buy produce to "process, put up, or put by". (Say that fast five times.) But I can't seem to help myself in the presence all that seasonal beauty. In my enthusiasm I over-buy and then I must deal with it.
Case in point, my kids aren't wild about eggplants, and I know this from years of experience, but I couldn't resist their luscious purple beauty at the market, so eggplant un-parmesan was on the menu. From-scratch tomato sauce bubbled, sliced apples went in the fridge for Thursday morning apple crisp breakfast, wild blueberries were drying in the dehydrator. It was that kind of afternoon.
September was unrelentingly beautiful. A tad warm if you ask me (no one has) but impossible to complain about when day after day we were graced with cerulean skies.
But the earth turns regardless. And though the days were clear, sunny and warm they were, they are, shortening. At 6:00 o'clock the sun sinks behind the horizon of three story walk-ups and maple trees in our neighborhood. The sky is still light, but in what seems an instant, that golden glow of slanted late afternoon sun is gone from the day.
It is my favorite time for photography.
Eggplant in the oven, tomato-crusted pots and pans stacked in the sink, I grabbed the camera from my desk, and ran to the community garden (called un jardin pour tous/a garden for all).
But I missed it. As I was layering the casserole, in a hurry if you must know, I kept thinking I'm going to miss it. This light will be gone by the time I get to the garden. And it was.
The weather held for a few more days and I returned to the garden later in the week. No rush this time. No eggplant, except the un-touched leftovers in the fridge.
It is that time of year, the season of mono no aware.
Mono no aware is a Japanese term. I am not a student of Japanese, the language or the culture, and I feel inadequate talking about something that I can't claim as my own, culturally or linguistically; though I can definitely claim it as my own experientially. My Japanese friend, if he reads my blog, might call me out on my mis-interpretation of this idea, "nice try Renee, but actually, it's like this...". But he would never say that, he is far too polite.
According to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, mono no aware is the pathos of things, deriving from their transcience.
I'll admit, I don't quite grasp the concept of pathos. I can't define it in my own words. But transcience, oh my do I understand that. The wikipedia definition of mono no aware helps explain it.
Mono no aware is a sensitivity to ephemera.
Sit there for a moment.
A sensitivity to ephemera.
an awareness of impermanence, or transience of things, and both a transient gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life.
I now have a phrase, an understanding, a ladder rung of an idea to define late summer/early autumn melancholy.
I experience mono no aware most keenly in September and early October. It's not cherry blossoms that trigger for me this wistfulness and gentle sadness. It's the last cicadas and the drooping heads of spent sunflowers. It's the noticeably darker evenings and that golden glow of late afternoon. It's the first crisp days and red-tinged leaves.
It is exactly as wikipedia says: a transient gentle sadness at the passing of (summer) and that longer, deeper gentle sadness that this is the way of things.
The impermanence of summer's beauty, splendor, her majesty, is the story of us. That is the ache of course. We ache not just for a season, gone, we ache for us.
The renewal of the earth next spring, the birth of babies, the eventual redemption, permanence, of all things, all of these are so precious, anticipated, longed for, because we experience the ache of the passing, the impermanence, the transcience of things.
And there are some moments, seasons, that my awareness of this transcience is heightened, the veil thinned.
(Cue Landslide, by Fleetwood Mac.)
It is that time of year. A time for apples, eggplants (the kids are done with eggplants) and roasted tomato soup. A time to feel wistful and allow myself the gentle sadness of the passing of things.
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