Under the Open Sky: Take up the challenge of Ember Days: Learn, Reflect, Give

By Kimberly Mason
For The Chronicle
Ember Days are a very old and mostly forgotten tradition of the Christian religion. It is a practice that began as early as the third century as a replacement for the seasonal Roman or “pagan” feasts.
Celebrated four times a year, Ember Days were a time of fasting and prayer, a time to give thanks for the gifts of nature in the changing of each season, and a time to give alms to the poor.
The Ember Days of fall are observed this week on Wednesday (yesterday), Friday and Saturday.

My own religious practice asks that I observe Ember Days, but don’t you need to be religious to observe the days. Good stewardship of the land, gratitude for its gifts and giving of aid to those in need should, of course, be practiced every day of the year.
We have set aside special days to celebrate laborers, the birth of our country, mothers, fathers and more — all are things that should be celebrated daily. But those special days on the calendar is what puts the whole of our community’s mind on the same path as we honor together that which we value.
I would love to see a return to the observance of Ember Days — even if the days are seen as secular time rather than religious. I challenge you to find your own way to observe the changing of the seasons in your own way. To stop, smell the fresh, crisp air, watch the last of the season’s butterfly’s dance across a field, or make an apple pie for a lonely neighbor — whatever suits you best.
You don’t have to dedicate three days to the task, as I do; three hours would make a difference in your life and in the lives of those around you.
In my own observance of Ember Days there are three steps: learn, reflect and give.
Whenever I learn something new about nature I am changed forever. Understanding creates a bond between me and the natural world, knowledge demands that I find empathy for the struggles of other people and other creatures, awareness asks me to find a way to help them.
As I reflect upon the past season, I think about the efforts I made that paid off this year — strawberries planted last year and then harvested this year in handfuls, briars torn from the soil under fruit trees giving them new life and health, the addition of special seed feeders to attract new and different birds to my yard.
There are also efforts that didn’t work out very well at all — blueberries harvested by birds and never by me, expensive native plants neglected and dead, and the never-ending, ever-frustrating battle against the moles and voles of my front lawn (which I have officially declared to be a 12-hole miniature golf course).
I have yet to decide how I am going to “give” during these Ember Days (although I would very much like to give a chrome bright steelhead or a fine, fat fall Chinook salmon to a dear friend — but I’ve got to catch one first), but I am confident that the perfect opportunity will present itself before the weekend is through.
Now, go outside, see something new and give thanks for the gifts of nature.

Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer and photojournalist. Visit her website at almostdailynews.com, find her on Facebook (Kimberly Mason — The Chronicle), call 269-5017 or email kim@almostdailynews.com.