Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Autumn Leaves and Rosh Hashanah Thoughts

Tomorrow night begins Rosh Hashanah 5772,  the Jewish New Year.  As I wrote in a previous post, it comes in the fall in the Northern Hemisphere.  This year it is rather late, due to the cycles of the Hebrew Lunar Calendar.   Because there are no major Christian holidays at this time, many people have never heard of the Jewish High Holy Day cycle of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, followed by Sukkot, the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles, as the KJV mistranslated.)  However, these holidays are much, much more important on our calendar that Hanukkah, which everyone has heard of because it comes near Christmas. 

Fall blackberry leaves
By Yonassan Gershom
Pine County, MN
In the natural world, the leaves are already turning fall colors here in Minnesota.  It might seem odd to begin a new year in the fall, when everything is going dormant.  Why not start in the spring, when new things are being born?  However, there is a spiritual reason for this.

The Jewish New Year, unlike the secular New Year, is not a time of parties and revelry.  It's a time of repentance and serious introspection, the Day of Judgement when God opens the Book of Life and looks at the karma of the world.  So it is appropriate that this holy day should come when the natural growth cycle is ending and old leaves are falling off, when we are looking over our past deeds, rather than focusing on the future.  This is a time to shed old behaviors, to bare our souls before God the way the trees are baring their branches.  A time to repent of our old mistakes and promise not to do them again.
Autumn Oak Leaves
By Yonassan Gershom
Pine County, MN

  Another symbolism connected with Rosh Hashanah is wearing white clothing, because of the verse, "Though your sins be scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." (Isaiah 1:18)  So once again, the brilliant red leaves falling off the trees are a reminder of the negative behaviors we seek to drop at this time of year.  They are beautiful for the moment, as temptations often seem to be, but they do not last very long.  At the same time, those falling leaves can, if composted properly, become fertilizer under the winter snow, for a better crop next year.  In the same way, understanding our past deeds becomes food for thought -- mental fertilizer if you will -- for improving our lives in the future.

Rosh Hashanah always comes at the dark of the moon, then the season moves toward greater light.  Much of Jewish symbolism focuses on moving from darkness into light.  Our days begin at sundown, based on the story of Creation in Genesis ("It was evening and it was morning...") where the very creation of the universe went from darkness to light.  So, as we move from Rosh Hashanah, the Judgement Day, toward Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the moon is getting brighter and brighter, until on Sukkot, the Harvest Festival, it is full.  In  the same way, we go from the somewhat depressing prospect of examining our past sins, toward making amends during the Ten Days of Repentance, until we receive forgiveness on Yom Kippur.  After that, we move forward together, to celebrate in the sukkah during Sukkot, the Feast of Booths - which I shall tell you more aobut in a future post.

Meanwhile, wishing everyone Shanah Tovah -- may you have a blessed, prosperous, and peace-filled New Year!
Flaming Fall Oak
by Yonassan Gershom
Pine County, MN

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Viewing my autism as a gift, not a curse

When I was a child back in the 1950s, neither ADHD nor Asperger's (both of which I have) were even on the radar.  Because I had good verbal and reading skills, nobody ever saw me as 'disabled' or 'special' -- just a problem child who "does not work or play well with others."  (How many times was THAT on my report card?)  I was, they often said, "too smart for my own good" -- probably because I was talking by nine months, reading by the time I went to kindergarten, and into college material by 5th grade.  My family nicknames were "Chatterbox" and "Professor." A neighbor once told my mother not to let me come over there anymore, because I "made her feel stupid."

On the other hand, I was (and still am) socially inept, because I don't read body language or facial expressions very well, and I often fail to pick up nonverbal cues.   Throughout grade school I was the butt of ridicule and bullying by my peers ("Why do you always look at the ceiling?" they jeered), so that by the time I reached high school, I had pretty much withdrawn from all activities and almost flunked out.  The only reason I got into college at all was because I had really high SAT scores.   Eventually I got tracked into being a rabbi because I am a good scholar but, alas, most American Jews don't really want scholars, they want "schmoozy" social directors.  And that is something I am unable to do very well.  So, I ended up as a freelance writer.

Given all of this, how could I possibly believe, as the title of this post suggests, that my autism is a gift?   As a child, I did not believe that.  Well into adulthood, I thought I was cursed.   I spent years of loneliness trying to figure out why I could not fit in anywhere.  But recently I have come to realize how being an Aspie gives me a unique and different perspective on the world, and that it has helped my writing immensely.   My ability to remember precise details, make fine distinctions among various categories of things, and see complex interconnections all give my writing a clear, fine precision.

"Big Oak 3"
by Yonassan Gershom
(An old growth oak on my land)
As many of my readers know, I literally "wrote the book" on the subject of Holocaust reincarnation cases (Beyond the Ashes, 1992), and I believe my autism made this possible.  I was able to be emotionally detached enough to sift through the material without being overwhelmed by the horror and sadness of the stories. 

I also  believe my odd personality prevented this from becoming a cult, heaven forbid.  Since I have zero charisma as a New Age guru, it was not likely that any groupies would blindly idolize me.   In fact, readers are often very disappointed to discover that the author of the book they love is a chattering Aspie nerd who does not fit their stereotype of "spiritual."  And that is for the best. 
Autism also influences my photography.  You have probably noticed that there are no people in my photos.  Frankly, I find pictures of people to be terminally boring.  The last publication I would ever buy is People magazine, and I have never once watched a reality show like Survivor or The Bachelor.  All babies look pretty much the same to me, and I mix up adult faces as well.   For example, I know, that William Shatner is Captain Kirk on classical Star Trek, but if I see Shatner in another role, I might not immediately recognize him.  I might not recognize you right away, either, if I see you out of your usual context (such as in the grocery instead of at work.)   Which does not make for very good personal relationships. 

"Calico Kitten"
by Yonassan Gershom
On the other hand, nature fascinates me, and my ability to hyperfocus on small details helps me see the world through a creative lens.  I have hundreds of photos of the sky and clouds, as well as landscapes, trees, flowers.  I also have a great rapport with animals, too, especially cats.  I guess you could say I'm a Cat Whisperer.  Even cats that people claim are impossible to hold or pet will come up to me, rubbing and purring.   I would not ever want to give that up in order to  be "cured" and become a Normie.

As Temple Grandin once said (and I am paraphrasing here), if the socialites had been running the world for the past few millennia, we would all be still just sitting around in caves, chatting and gossiping.   When you look at great inventors and writers, they were often oddballs who did not fit in, but they saw the world through different enough eyes to come up with original ideas. 

I'm convinced that Thomas Edison was an Aspie -- how else could he hyperfocus on a single idea so intensely that he tried a thousand ways to make a light bulb?  And Bill Gates, who was the butt of jokes for many years because of his personality, turned out to be an Aspie also.  Perhaps he was not the most sociable person on the planet, but he did invent the idea of a loadable operating system, thereby making modern computing possible.  Were it not for Aspies like Edison and Gates, you would not now be reading this blog.   Remember that next time you want to "cure" people like me.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wild Turkeys -- hard freeze tonight -- picking green tomatoes

This has to be the most cruelty-free wild turkey feather ever -- it was dropped on our dirt road by a passing flock of turkeys about a week ago.   I frequently see turkeys around here, sometimes as many as 20 or more.   I wish I knew where they are roosting -- then I could find lots of feathers!

This morning our dogs were raising a ruckus from inside the house, and when I looked outside, there was a crow walking down the road.  I thought it was odd to see a crow taking a stroll there, but thought maybe he was looking for gravel or grains.  Then I saw the turkeys following behind.  At least, that's how it looked.  I grabbed my camera but of course, as soon as I went outside, the crow let out a warning call and the turkeys all ran into the bush.   I did get a good enough look to see that there were 5 adults and 2 older juveniles. 

Was the crow actually serving as a lookout for the turkeys?  It sure looked like it.  And he did fly off in the same direction that they went.

On another topic, we are due for a hard frost tonight -- going down to 26F, which is probably going to break some records around here. This is really early for a killing frost. Way too cold for tomatoes to survive, even if they are covered.  So I'm taking a break right now from picking and storing them all in the shed.   Some will ripen, and for the rest, I've got lots of recipes using green tomatoes -- fried, pickled, in sauces and relishes.   (BTW, naturally-ripening tomatoes do so from the inside out.  Any tomato showing some whitish or reddish on the skin is already ripening inside and will eventually turn red.) 

I've already pickled all my cukes, picked all my beans, onions, leeks and hot peppers, made sauerkraut and kimchi from the cabbages, jelly from the grapes.   All in all, it was a pretty good year for the garden.  Tonight we are making apple butter and applesauce, using fruit from our trees.  All of this certainly helps with the winter food budget.

Scarlet Sumac leaves against the sky
Pine County, Minnesota

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Birds flocking, crickets chirping -- Rosh Hashanah is coming soon!

 I woke up very early this morning and went outside for a dawn walk, to be met with the squawking of a huge flock of birds waking up in a distant tree. (Probably starlings, they were too far away to positively ID.)  I don't have a telephoto lens, just a digital point-and-shoot, but was able to snap this pic just as the flock took off with the sunrise.   Even though it's not the best photo I ever took, I'm pretty proud of it -- migrating birds have gathered in that same tree for years, and this is the first time I was able to capture them taking flight.

Flocks of chattering birds mean autumn is coming.  So does another sound:  the chirping of crickets.  I have always heard this as a sweet-sad sound: sweet, because I love the song of crickets, and sad, because it marks the beginning of the end of summer.  Crickets are around earlier, of course, but they do not get their song until they shed their skins for the final time and the males get wings with the "instrument" to make the sound.  It is the wings -- not the legs as is commonly thought -- that crickets rub together for this sound. 

A third sound that I associate with fall is not made by nature, although it does require a natural  object to produce it.  This is the sound of the shofar or ram's horn, that Jews blow on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, as well as during the Hebrew month of Elul that preceeds the holy day.   The Jewish calendar is lunar, so the exact date of Rosh Hashanah varies form year to year, but it is usually in September.  (This year it is quite late, beginning after sundown on the 28th.)

Typical ram's horn Shofar
Some Christian Bibles mistakenly translate shofar as "trumpet" and refer to Rosh Hashanah as "the Feast of Trumpets."  The first time somebody asked me about the Feast of Trumpets, I had no idea what they were talking about, because no Jew would ever mistake a shofar for a trumpet.  Trumpets were also blown in the ancient Jerusalem Temple, but a shofar is definitely not a trumpet!  The shofar is an ancient, primitive horn that is literally made from an animal's  horn, usually from a male sheep but it can also be from a goat or gazelle.  (Never a cow, though, because of the sin of the Golden Calf.)   The shofar produces an archetypal, visceral sound that shakes the very soul and is meant to wake us up spiritually.  "Wake up, wake up!" the shofar says, "Return to the path of God, your Creator!"

I suppose that in the Southern Hemisphere, where it is now the beginning of spring, not fall, there are other nature sounds that Jews associate with Rosh Hashanah.  But for me, it is the sound of the crickets and the calls of migrating birds that remind me the High Holy Days are coming.