Samhain and Sukkot

We arrived at my friend Sandra’s home, a small parade of women, each carrying a hollowed-out squash or pumpkin – in one case, a scooped-out sweet potato. When the first chill of autumn hits, I always think of the ancient Celtic tradition of Samhain, which was celebrated in late October to mark the transition from harvest to winter. A large bonfire burned in every village square. Each family arrived with a hollow winter vegetable, into which they placed an ember from the communal fire, likely the root of our tradition of making jack-o-lanterns. They carried these embers home to light their own hearth fires as winter began to close in. We were carrying on the beautiful ritual in our own style.

Squash

We gathered around a fire, poised between looming Samhain and just-finished Sukkot. The late-September Jewish festival recalls the forty years that the Jews spent wandering in the wilderness after being released from slavery in Egypt, when they lived in transitory shelters and ate manna that rained down from heaven. I first learned of Sukkot while I was in seminary in Atlanta in the 1990s, when for a week my Jewish neighbors hosted backyard parties in shelters they had temporarily created out of sheets of plywood and tree branches. Continue reading

Lions and Coyotes and Calves, Oh My!

Two days ago, a calf was born on the 120-acre mountain farm next-door. On my morning walk that day, I rounded a turn in the trail and spied him under a chestnut tree by the creek, just hours old, still wobbly on his legs, his mother licking him vigorously. Last night a coyote tried to kill that newborn calf. His mother successfully thwarted the attack, but not without injury to her ear and face. On this morning’s walk, I noticed that all the cattle are huddled together at the bottom of the mountain, the calves in the center of their protective circle.Lion

Twenty years ago, when I was in South Africa observing the stunning work of its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, friends there who were anxious to increase tourism and stimulate the economy after the devastating apartheid years encouraged me to visit Kruger National Park. Unforgettable are the majestic elephants, the herds of trotting giraffes and graceful gazelles, the hippos bellowing at a full orange moon rising over the Limpopo River. But what I remember most vividly is a trek into the savanna in an open-platform truck to view the lions at sunset. Before we began, our guide gave clear instructions: “Stay in the truck. Don’t separate yourself or make any movement that distinguishes you as an individual. As long as the lions think we’re one huge animal, they won’t attack.” Continue reading