A Miscellany About September Days
Fall has arrived and September has been this deep mix of discovery and rediscovery.
I took my first business trip and had the first client visit since the pandemic started. I officially started the next chapter of Bard Press, while moving all of our distribution to our new partner at Two Rivers. Schools reopened with my daughter Alex in eighth grade, my son Zach running cross-country for the first time in his junior year of high school, and my oldest son Ethan starting college. My wife’s practice at Silver Mountain Health is finding new energy.
I went to the movie theatre with Ethan to see Shang-Chi. I sat for a retreat for the first time since my shuso term. I went to a live(!) concert with my friend April, out in a farm field under an old oak tree, and listened to Colin Meloy sing Decemberists ballads.
“Equinox is a time of change. We go from light to dark. It’s still dry, yet there is a coolness in the air. We still have bright skies, but the angle of light changes. A shift from external to internal happens. The school year starts, and people begin things and start to knuckle down and get serious. People make new intentions[…]”
This is a passage from You Are Still Here: Zen Teachings of Kyogen Carlson. Kyogen co-founded Dharma Rain Zen Center, the sangha I have practiced with here in Portland for the last 11 years. Kyogen died seven years ago this month. You Are Still Here is a new book that collects his teachings. It was edited by his student and my teacher Sallie Jiko Tisdale. The book is organized by seasons and starts with fall.
I can feel that autumnal shift inward that Kyogen speaks of, tugging at me. That tension between “knowing” and “figuring out” that feels strong in our second fall of the pandemic.
Writing this was hard. At one point, I wasn’t sure I had anything to write. There was no strong theme or encompassing headline that normally lead me forward.
There is a thread in the next three stories…maybe…maybe not…or maybe I will just see it later.
One corner of our yard is connected to an undeveloped section of land, city property for a road that wasn’t built. The prior owners had a length of fence that tried to wall off our side yard from the unmaintained wilds. That fence fell down a few years ago and we never replaced it. Eyeing that patch each day, with its few tall trees and covered in English ivy and blackberry vines, we slowly felt more responsible for it and those trees. It took two years to really tame that section of land and it takes a couple of Saturdays each year to keep it maintained.
The trees on that small patch of land have an interesting story that I didn’t really know until a few weeks ago. It started when a friend in Portland posted a picture of a newly planted tree in their local park in Montavilla. It wasn’t the picture that caught my attention, but rather the comments below the image.
In 1939, a new fossil was found for a type of redwoods that had never been seen before. A few years later, botanists unexpectedly found a grove of these sequoias living in the central Sichuan region of China, after believing that this species has been extinct for millions of years. Fossils records show that, at one point, these redwoods were widespread and prolific across the all of the North Hemisphere. In China, these trees are known as “water fir” because they tend to grow in low lying areas near rivers and streams. Wikipedia claims the tree’s rediscovery as the greatest botany find of the 20th century.
After the trip down the lost redwood rabbit hole, I returned to the photos and left in greater awe—the two trees growing at the base of our driveway were these same types of redwoods. I don’t know how long they have been here, but they stand almost 40 feet tall. Botanists think they might be able to grow to 200 feet, but maybe more. they are not sure because all of the living trees are still young by redwood standards.
Our house is built into a steep hill and the water runoff makes it a perfect spot for them. What makes Dawn redwoods, as they are known in the West, unique among redwoods is they are deciduous trees. These redwoods shed their leaves each fall and are the only living redwood species to do that. And they are beautiful, they look like a species of tree you’d find in a magical elven forest. The picture below isn’t from our yard but better show them in their full beauty.
Some of the first Dawn redwoods planted outside China were grown in Hoyt Arboretum here in Portland. Those trees were the first to produce seed cones on US soil. In 2005, the Oregon legislature designated Metasequoia as the official state fossil, because so many can be found in the eastern part of the state.
Dawn redwoods have become popular again and are now cultivated all over the world. Crescent Ridge New Dawn Redwood Preserve is establishing a 50 acre park as the only redwood grove in the eastern United States. They plan to open in 2035 with 5000 redwoods.
I don’t know if I can explain it, but all of this makes it feel a little more magical that we have these redwoods in our neighborhood.
For more, read the article Metasequoia Mystery by Kyna Rubin
In 2015, my wife gave me a fleece pullover for the holidays. She bought it during a closeout sale earlier in the fall and I immediately fell in love with it. So comfortable. Smooth exterior that didn’t pill easily. Formal enough for Pacific Northwest business casual and warm enough to wear almost year around. The garment was sewn in panels to allow for lots of movement without pulling or tugging at the sleeves or bottom. And the Patagonia Piton Pullover in ‘Medium’ fit me like a glove.
I loved it so much I started looking for another one, but they were already discontinued. The chase started…and quickly got a little out of control. I set-up alerts on eBay for the Piton Pullover. The fleeces are rarely listed at Pitons, because nowhere on the tags is it named as such. You just have to search through listings and identify them visually.
I wrote Patagonia to get more information. They sent me catalog images and told me those fleeces were only available for two seasons—Fall 2012 and Fall 2013. There were nine colorways produced. Black appeared in the line-up both years. The first season had wonderful colors like Red Delicious, Bandana Blue, Dill, and Forge Grey. The second year arrived more reserved with Purple, Nickel, Graphite Navy, and an exception, Electric Orange.
I looked into following year’s style, the Piton Hybrid. It was, of course, inferior with its lightly patterned fabric and a vertical zippered chest pocket. The Hybrid also came in hoody, vest and jacket editions. Patagonia followed with Synchilla, R1 and Better Sweater and they just didn’t seem the same. Besides Ebay, I expanded my search to Patagonia’s own Worn Wear website and, more recently, Poshmark to find these hard to find items.
All told, I now own fourteen different versions of the Patagonia Piton, including the complete line of the original nine colorways, one color that isn’t in the standard line but the bear official style number STY47710 (I still don’t know where it came from), and four of the not-actually-inferior Hybrid editions.
This is the time of year those fleeces go into heavy rotation, as the air cools and the rains gather in Portland. I know it is a little obsessive to have collected all of them. The chase was fun though. And we live in a world that moves a little too fast to the next thing. For a while, I thought it was just me getting old and ornery, but companies can’t seem to settle anymore when they have found the right/best way to make something. It was nice to read and feel validated by Nick Heil and his search to find the best truck of all time.
The real truth is that these fleeces fit well, fit well into my life and they make me happy. I don’t need much more validation than that.
The first time I heard Modern Skirts was on a Paste Magazine Sampler in 2006. I still miss those samplers and the amazing pipeline they were to amazing music in the 00’s. The track on that sampler was for their Catalogue of Generous Men album that the band had just released. For me, it lives as a rare album that I can be played from top to bottom and every song works with their pop hooks, twangy electric guitar, bar piano, and Beach Boys harmonies.
The track I have returned to most often is the seventh on the album—September Days. It was one of the first tracks the band wrote together. The song opens with a sparkling piano riff that invokes a late summer afternoon when it’s still warm and the sun is low in the sky. The lyrics are melancholy—”Everything changes and green turns to brown in your eyes.” It dances with both memory and loss, ending with horns that celebrate “the nicest days of the year”.
In 2010, the band crowdfunded a new album on Kickstarter. One of the rewards for backers was an opportunity for fans to choose a song and the band would make a unique recording of it. I asked them to do an acoustic version of September Days. The stripped down version is a touch slower and feels like an even better tempo for the song. I’ll post both of them here for your enjoyment.
September Days by Modern Skirts on Spotify
September Days are the nicest days of the year.