When this column appears, my favorite month will be history. Pumpkins will vanish from front porches, and store windows will start to sprout the first plastic Santas and evergreen garlands. The light will shift from muted gold to the pallid gray of winter. The last of the roses will make their final, valiant stand against the frost.
But today, it is still October. It is still autumn. It is still Keats’ season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. And there is still time to write my annual fan letter to Mother Nature. Here goes.
I’d just like to say right off that I love what you’ve done with the early mornings, dark though they may be. The way the stars are still visible at 6 a.m., and the moon gleaming pale while the night fades—it’s one of your best effects. Orion looks sharp up there in the October sky, winking like an old friend. He seems to know that he’s the only constellation I occasionally recognize, and goes to some lengths to identify himself.
I wait until first light to start my walk, and that dawn mist rising off the river is another fine sight. Is it mist that you use to make the silvery nets that hang from bushes and shrubs in these early hours? Someone told me once that they are called fairy cradles, which is a good description. They seem designed for other-worldly beings, winged creatures that come and go before the sun has fully risen.
Let me congratulate you once again on the bouquets blooming in roadside ditches and vacant lots. Those purple asters and Michaelmas daisies, that goldenrod and ironweed are just right together, not too fussy or over-art-directed. I like the way they contrast with the dun-colored grass, the way they mirror the subtle shades of a medieval tapestry. You have a real eye for color.
The vines are something to see this year, red flashes of sumac draped on old oaks and stone walls and fences. Even the ubiquitous kudzu has a certain appeal, its high-hung blossoms purple and grape-scented in the crisp air. Bees love these flowers, I’m told, and kudzu honey is especially sweet—another of your stealth sermons on the hidden treasures of the homely. Duly noted.
As for the trees, I don’t know where to begin. The maples, of course, as showy and brilliant as ever, look as though they’re posing for a seasonal calendar. There is one on Lyons View that causes me to slow down and gape every morning, a sort of autumn icon clothed in flaming orange for a full, perfect week. The woods that flank the winding road to our house are at their peak right now, and I find myself shouting look, look at that, to no one in particular as I drive home.
Sometimes, in the mellow light of late afternoon, a shower of leaves will drift down before me. Their slow, floating descent always takes my breath away. They seem to move to some secret music, summoned from branch to earth. I think of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem about the trees unleaving, and his prediction that “as the heart grows older/It will come to such sights colder.” Not mine. My heart has grown older through more autumns than I care to count, but my joy in this month is as keen today as it was when I was a child walking home through ankle-deep leaves and inhaling the smell of wood smoke. The very air seems charged with equal parts of nostalgia and possibility.
So thanks. For the dark mornings, and the tapestry colors, and the sermonettes delivered by trees and vines. Thanks for the fairy cradles and the roadside bouquets. Thanks for the light of memory, and for coming through one more time with the inestimable gift of here and now.