I still like ‘em better green… leaves, that is.
A friend sent me pictures from a weekend excursion to the North Shore – trees blazing in red, orange and canary yellow. Glorious, I’m told, in their fall colors.
But just short weeks ago they stood lush and green.
And only days from now they’ll stand stark and bare, silhouettes against an iron gray sky.
Each year it begins far to the north, and, inexorable as the setting sun, works its way south, toward us. It’s coming. Fall. Summer’s funeral.
There’s no denying we’re at the end of a season we’ll spend the next half year looking forward to, and all those orange, red and yellow leaves that mark it’s passing, they’re beautiful and cheery as so many funeral bouquets, and equally quick to wither and decay.
It’s a funeral, all right. Oh we soften it with giddy talk of fall colors and try to sweeten it with cloying doses of pumpkin spice, but it’s an enterprise transparent as calling Uncle Joe’s burial service a celebration of life. Nope. Fall is summer’s funeral, a grim recognition of good things passing. Spring we welcome with budding leaves and tender shoots … in fall we pull up rangy vines, rake up desiccated foliage and consign it to compost or cremation. We celebrate Easter with bunnies, baby chicks and lilies abloom in the morning sun; Halloween is skeletons and scarecrows, pumpkins eviscerated and disfigured glowing in the sinister darkness.Our autumn is our season of endings, of lasts – the last barbecue, the last trip to the lake. The last tomato, the last cocktail on the deck, the last time mowing the lawn. (OK, not all last things are met with the same measure of regret…)
Baseball is all but over and as the nights grow ever more frigid, football looks better and better on TV than out in the open air.
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It’s the season of looking back and putting away. There is a mortal finality to fall, a sense that all things will end and we are at the end of things. That life is turning hard and we had best prepare for it.
And we do. We haul in the garden hose, transfer the gas from the lawnmower to the snowblower and lay in a supply of sidewalk salt.
As a small boy I recall Grandpa taking down the screens while Grandma washed the storm windows before he hauled the big black Sears-Roebuck oil burner out of the machine shed and into the house where it would warm the front room of the farmhouse until the warming days of May.
Straw bales were piled two high along the foundation to keep out the wintery drafts. The mice moved in, the traps were set, the struggle had begun. With autumn’s advance we shiver in dread, in anticipation of drifts, chilblains and long, long nights of frigid darkness.
Oh, there are the isolated outliers who glory in sleds, toboggans and skis, but for the most of us, winter’s combination of gravity and slippery surfaces isn’t so much an invitation to recreation as a prelude to extensive and painful orthopedic rehab. In all honesty, who can favorably compare sitting, back to the wind on a bucket in the middle of a frozen lake to lounging on a shady riverbank, pole in one hand, frosty beverage in the other, hoping sincerely that any passing fish will cast an indifferent eye on that drowning worm…
So as we look to the waning days of October, we should savor these last days of summertime greenery, marred as it is with premature browns and yellows.
Keep watering the petunias, and bid sad farewell to the songbirds packing up their nests for a long flight south. We hivernants watch as they prepare to leave winter behind with no small measure of envy. Like earth on the grave, falling snow will end this fall-time funeral, and we seek comfort in the promised resurrection of springtime.