- Shortening days minute by minute are sneaky, hardly noticed except in quantum weekly leaps of darkness. Chill wind at dawn, on the other hand, is a brisk slap on the face. Fading flowers gently slide into another phase, still replaced by an occasional rose bloom or burst of aster blossoms. Yet suddenly an isolated tree will flame into orange or yellow, crisp into brown, present stark branches after a storm, all in the space of a few days. Only a matter of uncertain, but limited, time until heavy dew on the leaping grass is replaced by frost.
- Cold used to represent the most certain marker of seasonal change. Even today, I hear a few people vow to not give in and turn the heat on too early. However, with the din and clatter of noise in the suburbs approaching city levels, not to mention exhaust fumes, most windows are sealed year round, thermostats set to “climate control” and isolation reigns indoors. Calm, serene, and above all the same temperature. Our commercial culture leads the charge to what comes next, frantically selling warm clothes and decorations for holidays that are less celebrated than endured. I admit I wish for a few more warm afternoons, although “warm” is also being redefined.
Wind rush hushes all
Quiet I sit, shiver, say,
It’s not thatbad _
- Nights suddenly in the forties. Leaves more affected by cold than by short days, will soon transform landscapes. Fauna, on the other hand, are keenly aware of the sun’s retreat. Birds have been fattening up or flocking southward, squirrels are burying nuts, a black wooly-bear caterpillar was trudging across the shed floor searching a good place to be transformed, adolescent snappers have migrated into deeper seas.
- Only I, with unique human perspective, regard this as moments in time. Only I, with my amazing consciousness, can be aware that falling nuts portend falling snow. Only I can enjoy the vistas of autumn while dreading the depth of winter and fondly remembering the soothing ambience of summer. We live beyond today, tendrils towards past and future, and fail to understand how strange and miraculous such magic is. Meanwhile, I pay obedience to the moment dressed in sweat shirt and vest, not yet requiring hat and gloves, which will be necessary (I foresee) soon enough.
“Whew!” I exclaim, as a nearly-frosty gust skims off the end of the harbor.
“You call this cold?” laughs Larry. “You should come with us this weekend, right, Jan?”
“And you are going where?”
“We’re off on a bus foliage tour of Vermont,” Jan explains. “Almost a week of mountains covered with bright colored leaves and warm fires on cold nights at various ski resorts.”
“Enjoy.” I comment. “I’ve been in New England when the leaves turn, it’s very beautiful.”
“Recently?” asks Larry, skeptically.
“Well, no, a long time ago.”
“You and your wife should do it now,” notes Jan.
“Maybe. I don’t know. I remember well enough. And there are lots of places I go to around here to get the same effects.”
“Oh, Sagamore Hill, sugar maples on Goose Hill Road, the pond behind St. John’s church, 25A anytime of this month glows all the way. But I’ve also developed other appreciations.”
“Like what?” Jan is curious.
“At upland farms yesterday, for example, I was really excited by the thousand browns and yellows of the weeds in the fields, the metallic crimson sumac shrubs, white asters, purple Russian knotweed and the fluffy stuff spilling out of dried milkweed pods. Lots of fantastic things if you look slowly and closely.”
“A poet,” exclaims Jan.
“A lazy poet,” corrects Larry. “He just doesn’t want to bother to go anywhere.”
“Some truth in that,” I admit. “Well have a nice time,” I wave as a boat nudges into q waiting trailer to haul it away to storage somewhere amidst weeds just like those I had been describing.
- Each day delivers astonishment. A cluster of leaves on a twig suddenly gleams with translucent colors like stained glass, a small patch on a hillside blazes red, crowns of trees flare outlines of gold. Blink and everything is different yet again. An impenetrable green sheath obscuring the sky may, after a night of fierce wind, be transformed into naked branches dancing against clouds.
- If we were not so grounded in hard science, we would call it all magical, and invoke sprites and dryads as explanation, and I am still not quite sure that would be wrong. Bits of the landscape are following their own isolated patterns and rhythms, out of step with everything else. Of course, all those bits always do follow their own path, we are just too ignorant to observe most of the time. In October, I am happy to let astonishment override my mundane knowledge.
- For centuries, it has been fashionable to regard Nature as a grand artist. Each sunset is a masterpiece, each April a bubbling extravaganza, each autumn a symphony of coordinated and contrasting hues. We imagine harmonies and counterpoints, masses of one color offsetting another, a surprise around each bend in the trail, each change of light from passing clouds.
- I guess that’s kind of true. Kind of wrong. Depends if you regard us as nature.
- After all, it is unlikely that a worm or a rabbit notices beautiful foliage on a hillside. The incredible eyesight of hawks and eagles is focused on little scurrying brown objects below. Ultraviolet vision among insects helps identify the right kind of blossoms. But people are the only ones who see what we see, probably the only ones who project imagination into patterns, and certainly the only ones who talk about it, even to themselves.
- You and I are the grand artist, and we each bring our own mastery or lack of it to all that is spread before us. Some may know each species, others can’t tell an oak from a maple. Some are so wrapped in their cocoons of electronic necessity that they would hardly notice if the world became shades of black. If you are lucky, you are one of the people who can appreciate our feasts, visual and otherwise.
- This is a good time of year to drop everything for a few moments, kick ourselves out of our couches and chairs, and reset our souls with immersion in plain old nature. Artist or not, there is a lot to see, and even more to weave together in our own masterpieces inside our own skulls.
- Cool air, crisp sun everything, shiny as if encased in plastic. Crickets sound frantically, hordes of them hiding on the side of the shed door, a few sneaking into the house. Hardly worth hunting them down, everything is on the way out now. Grass needs mowing, but stays wet until dusk, a good enough excuse to wait for those not paid for the task. Each night a reminder that fine days (for a given definition of fine) are going to become rare.
- Logic clamors it is time to put away the yard stuff, the hoses, the garden tools, the pots, the various little knick-knacks which enliven the patio. Clean the garage so the car can be put away if necessary. Clean the shed so the barbecue and certain pots escape coming snow. Lazy intuition says the heck with logic, just sit back and relax and worry about doing nasty tasks when the days become nasty. I’ve tried that path once in a while, and it doesn’t work well. Better a little effort on a beautiful bright afternoon, than cursing and wet on a grey drizzling driving north wind.