Posts Tagged ‘Autumn’

I woke this morning to autumn’s first snowfall in the valley. In the darkness, I walked the dog down the long gravel drive to retrieve the newspaper, wrapped in clear plastic, covered with damp snow. Our feet left tracks in the thin white layer. The wind was blowing with the first bite of winter, cutting through my jacket.

There were two lights on upstairs, but no one was up yet. I had put on coffee to perk in the kitchen, and I could see the yellow light falling on the snow. Inside it was warm, but I stood with the dog and looked around the little town. There was an old film we watched once in school, “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” about a young boy who slowly withdraws from his family and the world as he dreams of the snow falling all around. It was a strange little film, and none of us eighth graders had any idea what it was about. Still, the first snowfall has the power to put everything under a spell, to show everything in a slant light, as if we are seeing it for the first time.

The coffee was ready in the kitchen. I shook the snow off my slippers, and the dog and I went into the waiting house.


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For months leading up to the Nov 6 election, I was obsessed by politics. Then, by Nov 7 or 8 it had all disappeared, except for the moans of the losers. It was like a big sporting event that seems so meaningful in the run-up, but by the next day for most fans the emotions have been forgotten. Now we are like the football fanatics after the Super bowl, wondering how we will face the long winter without our diversions.

The holidays are looming, another one of those long build-ups of frenzy that ends with the wreckage of wrapping paper and the long dreariness of New Year’s Day. I walked across campus this week on a clear and cold November morning to meet a friend for lunch downtown. The shops were putting out their holiday decorations and the shop windows were glittering with lights and artificial snow. Silver is the color of this season.

I met my friend José at the Thai restaurant across from the library. He is in his early 80s, though you would take him for a decade younger. He has been many places and seen the world, from Czechoslovakia during the war, to the Boulevard Saint-Michel at its most beautiful to Cancun, Mexico, when it was still a fishing village. José goes to his study when he can’t sleep in the night and works on stories about the people he has known and the places he has been. It is a good obsession, unlike politics.

The big Thanksgiving dinner is yet another run-up, with eight hours of frantic cooking and baking followed by cleaning up and exhaustion. This year we decided to try an alternative Thanksgiving dinner without the usual turkey and mashed potatoes and the rest. We got a plump chicken to roast from a local farmer who grows grass-fed beef and free roaming chickens. We will add a shrimp dish, some kind of winter vegetable casserole, a salad, wine, and a homemade pecan pie. Everyone seemed happy about the change, especially the cooks and dishwashers.

I do like this season, though it is cold for a boy with Florida blood in his veins. That blood is thinner and like the orange crops does not do well when the frost comes. This morning on the drive to work the trees were bare and coated with frost that sparkled in the sunlight. There is a stark beauty to the countryside, which I admire in a distant sort of way. It is not like the riotous colors of early autumn that fill me with a deep nostalgia and a desire to travel back-country roads across America as I have done so many times in the past, moving from place to place. This season is chill and silver, not yet winter, austere but not bleak. I can live with this weather, though my breath hangs like steam in the air.

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The first outlier gusts of wind and rain chased me up the highway from South Carolina as the storm of the century headed north last weekend. Whether or not the storm lives up to its advanced billing will be evident to all of us in the Northeast by the time the Sunday newspaper lands on your doorstep. For me, as I write this, it is still the future.

I went south to spend time with my almost 87-year-old mother, and to give my sister and her husband a chance to get away for a few days. It had been awhile since I had made the long drive alone, and I used the time to drift back into the past, reliving the places and people I had not thought of for so long – the hills of San Francisco and the playgrounds of childhood in Florida, Texas and Tennessee, Norfolk in the rain, and Baton Rouge in the heat of August. It was all vivid in my mind’s eye, as rich and deep as the bright leaves of autumn on Rt. 522 heading south through the hills and valleys of Pennsylvania.

It is good to remember before the wind blows them all away, that we live in one of nature’s perfect places, at least when the leaves are in their glory. On this trip of 600 miles, the most stunning spot was just as Rt. 522 crosses the Juniata River near Mt. Union where you can see upstream into the arch of trees with red and golden leaves that bend down to the water. With the highway almost empty just after dawn, I slowed the car to paint the scene on my memory.

I listened to tunes my daughters had downloaded from iTunes and burned onto CDs. These were not my old rock and roll tunes from before they were born. Most of what I played as I cruised through time and space, through other places and past lives, were recent recordings from new groups and singer-songwriters, songs rarely played on the radio. This is the golden age for alternative music and smart songwriters who may remain in semi-obscurity forever.

As I watch the news updates of the hurricane, I worry for my sister and brother-in-law, anchored on a small sailboat in Charleston Harbor where they are riding out the storm. Having seen too many photographs of boats blown up onto beaches and piers after hurricanes, I wish they would leave the boat behind and find a shelter on the shore. But strangely enough, there are small-time pirates about who will strip a boat of anything valuable if the owner is not there to protect it. What a choice to have to make.

Yesterday, I left South Carolina before dawn, outrunning the rain and the wind as I stopped for a break at the old Cyrus McCormick farm south of Staunton, Virginia, six hours into my drive. We usually are the only ones there in this beautiful historic site, the memorial to the young man who changed farming in America with his automated reaper. We will unpack a picnic lunch and later walk through the old mill turned by a water wheel, walk across the small stream, and gaze at the distant Blue Ridge Mountains. But today I was alone, and the wind was chasing me, so I ate my sandwich quickly and drove on.

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It’s a beautiful morning in South Carolina, where I am visiting my mother on this day 62 years after she first saw my face, wrinkled and red I imagine, squalling and unhappy to be in this cold world. Yesterday was Tim’s birthday, and I celebrated with him on the lake in North Carolina on Saturday. A good visit, but too short and Richard wasn’t there.

It feels like yesterday that we were in high school, admiring the girls and trying to be cool. Now we can qualify for early social security. But it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like my thirtieth year to heaven, as the poet Dylan Thomas wrote in Poem in October, one of the best of all birthday poems:

“My birthday began with the water-/
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name/
Above the farms and the white horses And I rose/
In rainy autumn/
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days./
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road/
Over the border /
And the gates/
Of the town closed as the town awoke.”

That was how I felt as I drove south through the sleeping towns of central Pennsylvania early Saturday morning, with the trees all splendid in their autumn colors. My thoughts drifted through the years to my childhood in Florida, my youth in Virginia, the years I lived in San Francisco, thinking of people I had known and how I had been happy and sad, and already missing my family I had just said goodbye to and our home in the quiet valley. That’s always how it is when I drive a long way alone. The mind is set free to wander.

Tim and I got excited while I was there about working together with Richard on a new project, a Best of Recipe du Jour electronic book for Kindle and other e-readers. It would be a compilation of each of our favorite pieces from the past 12 years of RDJ, with new introductory material the RDJ readers had never seen, supplied by each of us. We think that our long collaboration and friendship may be something unique in the annals of cyberspace, and we want to document it in a more permanent way. Look for it to be out before Christmas, if we’re conscientious.

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Today on Sinking Creek Rd.

The weather in our part of the country has not been kind to the autumn leaves. But this is still the beautiful time; the leaves that have not fallen are for the most part bright orange and yellow. The farmers’ fields are golden, rolling off up into the nearby hills.

There have been very few days of the crisp, clear weather we usually get this time of year. Instead it has been more like the weather in England, damp, dreary. Most days have rained, sometimes heavily, after an already wet summer.
I let the weather affect me more than I should. I expect to get that burst of joy in autumn that I have felt most years since childhood. I think of it as the back to school feeling, with everything new again and all of it an adventure in front of me. New clothes, new friends, the smell of sharpened pencils, books I have never opened with pictures in them of Egypt and the cathedrals of Europe.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we moved someplace new almost every September when I was growing up, sent hither and yon by the navy, without any thought of the family trailing behind. Everything was new – new town, new school, strangers in the desks next to you, at least until high school, when I settled in for a couple of years and made friends, like Rich and Tim, who have lasted for a lifetime.

But the dreary days bring me down and the summer of rain made me restless. I can barely read through the first chapter of a book without laying it down unfinished. In consequence, there are books lying open all over the house and piled perilously on my night table. The project of repainting my daughter’s bedroom has dragged on for many weeks, and still the floor is covered with plastic tarps and paint splatters.

I huddle too close to the radio and hunch over the newspaper, listening to and reading the ominous news. And it rains and rains.

Tomorrow the sun may come out and I will drive with my family along the creek road that winds under the golden trees with the leaves blowing across the road and the light slipping in and out between the gaps. It is still the beautiful time, and my heart has room to grow young again with the new season. All I need is a little of that golden light of autumn that flows so sweet, like a cool apple wine on the wind and on my tongue.

An Amish buggy passes on Sinking Creek Rd.

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The Autumn People

Later today, if the rain holds off, I will get out the lawn mower for the last time this season and cut the grass that has grown up without my noticing. This weekend or next it will be time to bring in the porch furniture, store the fans away in the attic and bring down the coats and sweaters from storage.

The first hard frost hit last Tuesday night and the end-of-season tomatoes and peppers have been picked and lie piled in baskets on the porch. Our own pumpkins never survived the dry summer, but we bought some nice ones from the Amish man at the farmer’s market this past Saturday at a good price. Most of the hard little apples have fallen from the apple tree in the front yard and lie hidden in the grass beneath a drift of yellow leaves.

It is time to say goodbye to summer and put away the shorts and t-shirts hanging on the hooks behind the closet door. Time to put away the fat, featherweight beach books and say hello to serious Russian novels with unpronounceable characters and book marks around page 45, where I abandoned them last winter.

Autumn comes so quickly to the ridges and valleys of central Pennsylvania. One day it is blue from horizon to horizon and the windows are wide open to the breeze. That night the furnace kicks on for the first time, and the shadows of afternoon reach from the front porch to the hedges by the road.

But now there is a zinging in the blood, as if from a jug of cider that has turned a little hard. The colors are all too bright to take in; the light slants down at an oblique angle, traveling slowly through air that has a solid dimension like antique glass. The space between us fills with an almost tangible substance like the ether that once was thought to fill all emptiness, and the smell of the leaf mold rises out of the damp ground.

I love the autumn. It fills me with grandiose dreams and visions that winter will put back to sleep. I like to hear the clock of the seasons ticking as the year winds down. I look forward to the day when the thin cotton bed spread gives way to the wool blanket. I like the color of fall clothes, jackets with heavy linings, and sweaters made of wool from the Hebrides or Scotland.

Today I may forget about the mowing altogether and pile the wife and kids into the car, and we’ll take a drive down the Penns Creek road where it curves between hills and the creek and the trees lean down and shake their leaves in the water. This is about as beautiful a place as I have ever seen in autumn, and it is all wrapped up in amazing colors, like a gift we’ve done nothing to deserve.

The fall is not for everyone. Some people are summer people and crave the long sunlit days, and some like the spring best when everything turns green like a resurrection. There are even some who find that the noble austerity of winter suits their souls. But the autumn people are made of a different strain, maybe passed on from some old Celtic gene handed down from Stonehenge days by ancestors who worshiped trees and rocks and believed in fairies and the Land of Sidhe where the fairies dwelled.

Whatever the reason, we are a melancholy tribe, and we like the fading colors of the year, ghost stories and old legends. We like sad songs, heartache, and noble failure. The autumn people see the world as a little darker than it really is; the summer people take it too lightly.

Autumn rarely lingers in this cold country and there is hardly time to enjoy a little sadness before winter comes. But while the rain holds off, I will take a drive up the valley through the farmlands that are three shades of gold in the afternoon light and wait until tomorrow to mow the lawn.

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