Equinox Waltz


Raindrops and mist, warm moist days followed by cool dry sun, loud insects muted as temperature lowers, swirls of leaves more frequently filling the air and carpeting below _ this is the beginning of a powerful waltz which twirls us around in a gripping rhythm, reminding us of warm times going by and indications of harsh moments to come.  There is repetition and progression and no matter how many times we have heard it the tune is lovely and irresistible and just a little melancholy.

The full orchestra naturally includes people and their activities, like the brass and drum section.  Dead trees are being chainsawed before they have to bear the weight of snow, rapidly growing grass is being cut furiously, suburbanites annoyed at each blemish on emerald expanse have decreed that leaf blowers strain endlessly to eliminate the offense _ modern day king Canutes forbidding the tide to come it.  All that crash and cosmic irony is also part of the harmony, although I sometimes have to extend myself a bit to appreciate it.

The middle of Long Island is not rural and doesn’t pretend to be as do the remnants of the east end with their increasingly pretentious remaining farms and vineyards.  Two acre zoning is the most  expensive and spacious for local McMansions, and the age of gold coast robber barons is long gone (although current financial barons   

Manage to continue to buy the old properties.)  But we do have a few preserved remnants of the centuries old ten or so acre family farms that once covered the area.

This is one of them, a meadow filled with goldenrod and milkweed and thistle, resounding with the chirps of insects and cries of birds, drying under the cool breezes.  Upland farm was deeded to and is run by the Nature Conservancy (which was founded near here) for wildlife, and still gives a small hit of what used to be.  I love taking an hour here and there no matter what the climate and weather to reroot myself in the real world, almost free of attachments, always part of the greater web of what is.

Early indicators on the ornamentals in the parking lot at the beach.  Leaves take over the stage for the next month, first in the wonderful colors, then in the drama of being stripped or blown off the branches, then finally in the effort to remove them from their natural resting place and cart them off to somewhere where they will not do nearly so much good.  The forest is rejuvenated by their decay each year, but here we prefer to fertilize our yards artificially instead.

Like the rest of the seasonal changes, the first indications of this seem miraculous, a spot of wonderful colors in a sea of green.  Then, except for occasional attempts to view something special, we tend to take everything for granted, seeing little day by day.  By the end of fall, we just want to get it over with and move on to winter with the promise of spring to come.  I often have wondered how much of our cultural attitudes in the moderate northern hemisphere are triggered by all this _ how easily we get bored, for example, or how worried we always are about what may come next.  Anyway, this morning had its truly lovely sights.

Another large meadow around here is at Caumsett on Lloyd Neck. This small peninsula on the North Shore was too sandy and hilly and remote for much more than local farming, so it stayed in large parcels owned by the original (European) families for centuries.  Then Marshall Fields decided to make it into a working Olde English Farm, complete with peasants and cows.  Eventually, the heirs gave it to the state as a park, and it now remains a wonderful large place filled with birds and deer and these fields.  You can actually pretend you are in Wisconsin or upstate or, for that matter, back in the Colonial period.

Except, of course, you are not, as the jet planes and helicopters will all too frequently remind you.  But for moments, it is wonderful to walk empty fields, watch the butterflies and listen to nature.  This spot always for me represents the heart of the season here, whatever day it is, a perfectly natural moment in an often unnatural environment.  Of course, I ignore the fact that to have a field they must mow the grasses down each year _ the true natural state of all New England is old growth gloomy forest.  Meadows around here are a sure sign of humanity, and have been since the ice age.Fri-

A fair representation of changes about to happen fast.  Flowers, green trees, mild coloration.  In another month, the flower bed will be brown, a lot of the trees will be stripped, and whatever leaves remain will definitely not be the same color.  October can be very dramatic, but in a nice kind of way, before the really nasty weather arrives.  Unless, of course, we have early snow.

Some times we feel that way about our lives, that somehow we are on a calm plateau but we intuit that it cannot remain so long.  Unfortunately, in a bad way, reaching towards your seventies is one of those times.  In spite of the hopeful braying of media and snake-oil salesmen, observation shows me that however you may enter that decade, you will not long remain unscathed.  But right now _ well, the leaves are still green, aren’t they?

Montauk daisies are not, I think, “true” daisies in the sense of being members of the compositae family.  But they sure look like daisies, except for the somewhat succulent leaves.  They can live in almost desert like conditions, out on sand dunes, where they are a welcome splash of beautiful lushness amid drying stalks of summer grasses.   

I always favor bits of nature that seem out of step with everything else.  Montauk daisies bloom fiercely when it seems just about everything else is packing up.  Witch hazel is another favorite, blooming in February which seems a completely futile endeavor.  These odd peculiarities make me, with my own idiosyncrasies compared to everyone else, feel much more accepted and part of the whole.

Old dead trees, like some of the artifacts we leave behind, hang around for a few years before disappearing into the common maw of the past and gone.  They seem more permanent than the quickly browning grasses and poison ivy around them, or the blue sky, or the quiet surface of the water.  But most wise philosophers have discovered that anything in the world beyond our consciousness is largely illusion.

A very pretty illusion today, and the temperature and sun are just as nice, the serenade of insects and birds a lovely background in the susurration of the wind through the leaves.  Like all answers to the basic question “why”, the proper response to “why should I care about an illusion” is simply “because”.





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