Monday, October 1, 2012

“Autumn”

Sydney M. Williams                                                                                                     October 1, 2012

Note from Old Lyme
“Autumn”

“Youth is like spring, an over praised season,
more remarkable for biting winds than genial breezes.
Autumn is the mellowed season,
and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits.”
                                                                                                     Samuel Butler (1835-1902)
                                                                                                     English author

The bright evening sun casts long shadows across the lawn, pasture and marsh on the first autumn weekend of the year. Fall began this year with the Autumnal Equinox on September 20th and will end three months later with the Winter Solstice, with the sun arcing through the southern most part of the sky; nighttime in Old Lyme on that day will exceed daylight by five hours. On another evening, light and dark clouds compete for dominance in the fading twilight. The river, reflecting the last of the sun’s rays, turns white from the blue of the sky that it had reflected only a few minutes earlier.

Fall is my favorite season. Days are warm and nights are cool. It is the one time of the year when the thermostat can be set to the ‘off’ position. The season begins with trees clad in their dress of green. It ends with limbs barren, but not lifeless. Leafs, through which deciduous trees receive and store energy by way of photosynthesis, lose their purpose, so turn color as they die and fall in glorious piles that are only a nuisance in afterthought. When I was young my father would gather leafs and press them against the foundation of the house. In death they had value as a primitive form of insulation. Today, unable to burn what is already dead, we send them to landfills. In the meantime, the trees hibernate, conserving their strength for spring when the process begins again.

The Red Maples and the Dogwoods are the first to turn color, beginning to do so in the waning days of September. Even the leafs our lonely but stately American Elm, our sole survivor of what was once a proud Connecticut species, begin to turn color early in October. The tall, superior-looking sugar maples hold off for another few weeks. Of course the holly and coniferous trees stay green all winter, providing color against the bleakness of the season. Flowerbeds persist into October, refusing to say ‘uncle,’ while the Rugosa Roses, planted because deer don’t seem to like them, bloom into early November, when they are cut down to six inches above the ground to get them through winter snows and cold. They will grow even more abundantly next year.

Marsh grasses fold over and turn brown, dulling the landscape, and the river takes on a grey and steely look. Nevertheless, the warmth of long summer days has kept the water temperature warmer than the air, the opposite of what happens in the spring. It is a great time to kayak, with falling leafs leaving more of the riverbank exposed.

For farmers, the autumn is the time to harvest what had been sown half a year earlier. For many of the birds that summer on these shores, it is the time to head south, to the warmth and comfort of their southern nests, leaving behind hardy seagulls and those like chickadees that stay through the winter. For squirrels, it is a time for gathering foods that will see them through long months of hibernation. The deer become bolder, showing up on the lawn, no longer consigning themselves to the fields and marsh, a consequence of no hunting and increasing scarcity of green victuals. Since the first Thanksgiving, fall is the time when Americans give thanks for the bounty that land and nature provided, and that they pray will see them through the hardships of winter to the resurrection that is spring.

In a lyrical but poignant first novel In the Shadow of the Banyan, Vaddey Ratner captures the spirit of rebirth. She writes of her own experiences of surviving Cambodia’s killing fields during the Khmer Rouge nightmare years of 1975 -1979: “And since then, I’d learned to see things not as they were, but for what they meant – that even when it rained, the sun could still shine, and the sky might offer something infinitely more beautiful than white clouds and blue expanse, that colors could burst forth in the most unexpected moment.” The gathering of crops and falling leafs; the flying south of birds and the hibernation of animals that need to conserve their energy over the long winter when they are unable to get food; these are all characterizations of autumn, yet hold the promise of renewal.

Many equate the seasons with life’s progress, suggesting that people my age are in their autumnal years. But I prefer to look past the seasons, knowing that much of what dies today will regenerate in a few months. It is what gives life a sense of the eternal. In my case, I look at my grandchildren and see my future. It is the promise of return that makes autumn so beautiful.

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