“I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days.” – from Frederick, by Leo Lionni.
As summer begins to fade, a plaintive refrain of regret can be heard in places where the season of sun and fun never seems long enough. “It’s gone so fast,” we say. “Can you believe summer is almost over?”
The season we love to anticipate does fly by for those of us who live in northern climates and only get a few months of warmth each year. Once we shed our winter layers for shorts, tees, and flip-flops, it is easy to settle in and forget that fall and winter eventually will return. Then somewhere around July 4, we start saying, “Summer is half over. Where did it go?”
Although I am sensing with everyone else the passing of this season of ease, I am greeting this juncture with less regret, thanks to a teacher friend who introduced me to Frederick the field mouse in the children’s story cited above.
Instead of gathering “corn and nuts and wheat and straw” like the other mice, Frederick sits and collects “sun rays for the cold dark winter days.” He stares at a meadow, storing up the colors of flowers, wheat, and leaves. And when he seems to be half asleep and dreaming, he explains, “Oh no, I am gathering words. For the winter days are long and many and we’ll run out of things to say.”
The story ends happily when Frederick comes to the rescue just as his family of mice is out of food and stories. He is ready with his rays of sun and colors that everyone can see “as clearly as if they had been painted in their minds,” and finally, uses his storehouse of words to create an entertaining poem, delighting his fellow mice, who applaud him and proclaim him a poet.
My friend, who would read Frederick to her second-graders, first shared this story with me some years ago during our annual late-summer “beach day.” As we sat on the sand, she suggested that, like Frederick, we could store up sunshine, warm breezes, and a blue sky reflected in the waters of the lake before she would be consigned to a classroom for another school year. It was always a delicious day, one that seemed to prepare us for the onslaught of the winter we knew would follow even the most beautiful fall.
So now, instead of gathering regret at the end of each summer, I try to follow Frederick’s lead by savoring and stashing away the best of the season. This year, that has meant spending many an evening on the front porch listening to the birds as they settle in for the night, and then casting my eyes skyward to watch the bats flying sorties at dusk. It has meant taking time to look over my less-than-perfect garden and appreciate its gifts: the Purple Coneflowers and Black-eyed Susans that were and are so stunning this year, the bunches of elderberries on branches that grew from what was a small plant just a few years ago, and the new foliage and blooms that emerged from the bottoms of the dead frames of two beloved bushes I had thought were forever lost.
I have paused to fix in my memory the sun rising over a bean field as I take my morning walk and the swaths of swamp rose mallows lining the causeway at a nearby wildlife area. I have smiled when startled by the Northern Cardinal’s early-morning wake-up call while it is still dark and been soothed by the whistle of the Eastern Wood-Peewee off in the woods. I have tucked away the treasure of wren chatter and peeping hummingbirds, of Eastern Screech-Owls calling back and forth at nightfall and dawn, of a Great Crested Flycatcher visiting my garden, of a newly fledged Red-Headed Woodpecker at the suet feeder with its parent, and of a splendid Cooper’s Hawk on the edge of our garden pond.
If you have slipped into a kind of sadness at the passing of summer, it’s not too late to do as Frederick did. Soak up some sun, and look, listen, and savor the treasures of this season. They will warm, feed, and delight you – and perhaps those around you – as the days grow shorter. Not only that, but they will drive out regret and remind you that summer is indeed endless when you store up and recall its beauty.
Frederick is an inspiration — thanks for sharing that story! I’m already feeling some sadness about the approaching dark season, so this was a timely reminder for me to get outside and gather some sunshine while I still can.
It really is hard not to be sad as the days grow shorter, Kim, but I agree that Frederick is an inspiration and I’m so grateful to Leo Lionni for his story and my teacher friend who told me about it. As the summer winds down, enjoy gathering the sunshine!
Federick the mouse is a real inspiration to me. He consciously chooses to look for and savor the positive treasures in each day so that they can be recalled and taken in whenever needed. This morning, a hummingbird greeted me at my sunroom window. Like you and Frederick, I’m going to tuck him away and recall his joy and beauty during a coming cold winter’s day! Thank you for sharing this beautiful message and reflection.
I love that you saw a hummingbird today and, most of all, that you will be storing the memory away for a cold winter’s day. May you find even more treasures to savor and save!
Thank you for the reminder, dear friend, to relish these last summer, early fall days while we still can. I confess I left Frederick behind as I retired from my second grade classroom but he is now resurrected to his proper place again! I am also reminded of a favorite quote, “The last freedom a man/woman has is to choose the attitude he/she will have in any given situation”. Victor Franckl. Truly, you have chosen the best path and reminded me once again! Thanks.
And thank you, dear friend, for teaching me about Frederick when I was well past the second grade! I appreciate, too, the Frankl quote — always a good one to recall and to try to live out.
I did some savoring on my screened porch yesterday, Judy. What a wonderful feeling watching the clouds go by, the birds flying and watching the rain come down at times. I miss my porch most of all this summer but am sure there will be more days to enjoy it . Thanks much for the lovely article.
Thank you for the nice comment, Pearl! I love the thought of you watching clouds, birds, and rain, and am so glad you snatched some “porch time.” I hope you get many more days of it before the snow flies!
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