Clippings: A summer day with fall foliage
As I write this, It’s almost painfully beautiful outside.
It is the weekend of the 25th of September, on Saturday. It’s like a mid-summer day, with temperatures nearly 80, but with fall foliage hastening to turn.
I drove into town on this day, late afternoon, from Cornwall, and stopped on Route 30/Main Street, about a mile and half from town, to look east to the Greens, and take it in — and, inevitably, also to take a photograph, or two. I was powerfully moved, overcome.
At this point, in the first full week of fall, I swear I can look out at the trees surrounding my house and see the colors actually turning as I watch. I have an impulse to take a lawn chair and just sit there and enjoy the drama. I take the same photographs, year after year.
All the trees on either side of the street I live on turn brilliant colors in autumn — it is a highway to heaven. It is, it’s true, even my Yankee restraint falls away. Like Emerson in “Nature,” I am a “transparent eyeball … I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear.” I am embarrassed by my effusiveness.
This day, Saturday, September 25th, the air is pure, yet there is a haze in the sky, as you can see in my photographs. I am told that is from the fires in the Northwest and California, 3,000 miles away, a reminder that we live in a real world. And our real world is disruptive, confusing, scary. We live in a pandemic haze — everything a calculation between risk and caution, any certainty elusive. Some argue that the fundamental tenets of our democracy are under threat this fall. The whole New England region is in drought.
Yet the trees don’t care about our temporal concerns; every year at this same time they will don their harlequin garb for our pleasure (see, I can’t help myself: “harlequin garb”!).
In a few days, for the next three or four weeks, the leaves will cascade from the trees, laying down a canopy on the ground that will require effort to mulch or rake and cart away before the snow flies. There is a lesson here, of a Puritanical sort — we pay a price for the pleasure we derive from the beauty of this season, a reasonable price, we conclude. Our aftermath work outdoors is a part of the joy we feel in this showy display. It’s just, balanced; we don’t get off scot free.
There are singular days other times of year that are also achingly beautiful: those few days in high winter, for example, when the sun comes up in the morning after a heavy snow and the world is blindingly white and clean and fresh — and like raking the leaves, we don’t object to the requisite shoveling of snow; or that day in late March or early April, after a rain when our world is all of a sudden green again, the buds and blossoms popping out on the trees and plants, and we realize soon enough we will be mowing and clearing brush, and we’re OK with that exchange too.
The colorful spectacle of fall is different from those mere days in other seasons. In our beautiful autumn, we get a few whole weeks, not just days now and then, really about a month. September becomes October. Then, October, soon enough, becomes . . . (sigh) November.
There’s only a month at best of this gorgeous color and scenery: that’s the “painfully beautiful” part. This interlude, this season-within-a season, is brief and what comes next is truly challenging, though officially still autumn. This beautiful month, brisk and invigorating, induces us to spend as much time as possible outside, but we are aware that we are losing three minutes of daylight every day — and November, dark and dank and cold, looms.
At our house, we have three large maple trees, two in the back and one in the front. They perfectly represent the progress of the season: one turns early, another right on time, and the third, the one in front, keeps its leaves till the bitter end. They’re beautiful old trees. The one closest to the house in the back is old and all wired together to keep it upright (sort of like me, with my replacement knees, and creaks and groans).
The maple in the front yard is tough. It’s the last to turn from green to gold and the last to shed its leaves. When it becomes a bare silhouette, like its mates, we know it’s time to hunker down.
There’s one day at the end of October that signals the end of this season-in-a-season, the most melancholic, bittersweet day of the whole year. It’s that rainy, cold, windy day when even most resilient leaves give up the ghost and relax their grip and come floating down. At night, in my car, when the colorful leaves are slick and beautiful on the glistening blacktop in my headlights, it’s almost too much to bear.
This year, the end of this spectacular interlude, will seem especially poignant. Every year, of course, we are finally driven indoors, with forays out into the chilly elements. There are those who will go out in the cold and play in the snow. I am not one of them. COVID cautious, I will miss my indoor pursuits with friends, a cold beverage or meal in the warm confines of Two Brothers, indoor sporting events (I have been known to say that Middlebury basketball gets me through the winter), plays at the Town Hall Theater, concerts at the college. I will not be traveling to Maine now and then to visit family and friends there as I have for years.
I’ll get by, I hope, with a little help from my friends, socially distanced.
Until then, my Addison County friends, carpe diem. Enjoy this glorious time, however brief. Be strong. Be safe. Carry on!
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