An Ode to Autumn

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“Autumn is a second spring, when every leaf is a flower.” Albert Camus

The more I think about that quote, the more I realize that I don’t agree with Camus. Because the difference between autumn and spring, in my book anyhow, is that spring literally bounces us forward to months of more, more, more, a rolling admissions invitation to an endless blossom party. Autumn, by contrast, is a fireworks finale,  just as the world is bedding itself down for a long winter’s nap. Where spring is just the beginning, autumn is the final gasp, leaving us with bare branches and darkness at 4:30PM .

For my entire New England-centric life, fall weather reports have included maps that show which zones are approaching their foliage peak, and which are past their foliage prime.  Once a zone hits that last high note, it’s a long slow fade to Thanksgiving–that’s the assumption, anyhow.  You go north over Columbus Day to hit the peak color in the White and Green Mountains, then you drive back home and wait for Jack Frost’s paintbrush to have had the same effect a couple of hours to the south, a week or two later on.

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When last I posted, September was just winding down, and the days were still shifting between an occasional chilly dose of weather to come and inevitable returns to those hazy hot and humid reminders of the season past.  What constituted foliage back then was really more a case of leaves withering and falling for lack of moisture, our summer having been exceedingly short on rainfall. I had low hopes for a colorful autumn, given the way things were going.

Since then?  Well, let’s just say that autumn 2015 has been about as glorious a foliage show as I can remember, ever.  As I thumb through the photos I’ve taken since October 1st, I realize that most of them have been exclamations of delight over the state of the colors outside my windows, down here or up north.  It’s been amazing, coming and going, home and away.

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Curiously, all my trips north the past month or so have been, according to the weather folks,  too early for peak foliage, or too late.  I went up the week before Columbus Day, and then a fortnight after that three day foliage-fest, and once again over the Veterans Day holiday.  Each time, I found myself wanting to argue with the foliage authorities.  Okay, the first of October may not have been the peak, but it sure was pretty.  Same thing three weeks later: perhaps the peak had passed, but wow, would you look around and see what there still is to see?  And even into November, when there was frost clinging to the tops of the Presidential range and the woods had gone all pewter and rust–there was beauty in the landscape, at every turn–in my book, anyhow.

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Gorgeous, even as autumn slips away.

* * * * *

I can’t help but wonder if my appreciation for the denouement of this foliage season has to do with where I am in my own life: definitely past the mid-point, definitely at a juncture where the expectation going forward is that what remains will be ongoing exercises in extending, as best I can, my capacities on all fronts.  There are no more big fireworks to be had when you’ve long ago turned 18 and 21 and 30 and 40 and…well, you see where this is going.  I’ve been to the prom, I’ve got my driver’s license, I graduated from college, I fell in love. I got my first paycheck and went on a round-the-world honeymoon. I gave birth, twice. And since then, I’ve witnessed my babies’ first lost teeth and first bike rides and home runs and art displays.  I’ve been there for their graduation days, their  wisdom teeth extractions and driver’s license tests, each time reliving the joy, the trauma, the relief.  I still wonder what the world holds for them, and I worry about their futures, but that’s me being a mom who will never not worry, who will always wish I could do something useful on their behalves beyond making applesauce and offering to pay for  snow tires.

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It’s deep-seeded in me these days, this urge to see beauty in the things that are past their prime, to not skip the parts that come after the big reveal.  I’ve been catching myself looking deep into the woods as we drive north and the landscape speeds by, feasting on the view you can only get when the ferns and brambles have succumbed to frost.  I spent my youth staring out station wagon windows on road trips in Maine, always hoping to spot deer, moose, foxes or bears, back when I wanted to be the boy in My Side of the Mountain. There’s something about this time of year, this year in particular, that’s pulling me back to those days, reminding me how much I once ached to find pink quartz rocks off the side of a hiking trail, or catch a glimpse of a bobcat or a jack-in-the-pulpit near our bend on the Carrabassett River. There are so many things I do now that echo those days and those desires–walks around the reservoir to see which migrating waterfowl are stopping over on their way south, trips to my favorite cemetery where more than anything, I want to find myself in the presence of wildlife, always wishing for encounters with coyotes or great horned owls.  I’m a city person now, but I grew up scanning the night sky for falling stars, and pulling Queen Anne’s lace up by the roots, just to smell their earthy, carroty scent.  Something about autumn, deep into its last leaves, its killing frost, holds my renewed attention, and jolts me to times in my life, looking both backward and forward.

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A post-foliage-peak view.  Seemed glorious to me…

* * * * *

So, here we are, with Thanksgiving nearly upon us.  In just the past few days, the wind and the rain have pulled down the hanger-on leaves, and the chill in the air seems inclined to stick around.  The world is dark too soon each evening, while the sun these days, so low in the sky, unfiltered by foliage, is stark and unrelenting, just until it disappears.  Winter is coming, no doubt about it.  Time to button up, batten down the hatches, sweep out the gutters and check that the furnace is ready to hum.

In these sepia-tinted days, I’ll still be looking for the beauty in the denouement, hoping to catch all the lovely little codas that are all too easy to miss, if you stop paying attention when things start to go dim.  From here on out, in my book, it’s all about paying attention–especially this time of year, especially this time in my life.

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8 comments on “An Ode to Autumn

  1. Pat Condello says:

    I love this entry, & can definitely identify with all of it. I too, love the fall, even after “peak” foliage. I think it’s beautiful to come upon one lovely tree that has delayed turning color after all the ones around it have dropped their leaves. They stand out like an actor that shows up in scene two. Some ferns are spectacular after they’ve turned brown, & I go around looking for them. And, like you, I’m in the fall of my life, reflecting on what small gifts will remain to brighten my journey towards winter. One thing I hope you will look forward to is the delight of your children’s children. I have none myself, but I do have a great niece & nephew, and they brighten up my life constantly. I hope you & your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    • khmacomber says:

      Wow! I always have the moment when I click on “publish,” and wonder if anyone will identify. This was a wonderful confirmation that I’m not alone. Thank you so very much!

  2. Boy have you got it, Hodge. This autumnal pulling of all things we hold dear, closer to us, until our world contracts to what reminds us of the glory days. That’s what my tiny greenhouse is all about. Cheating cold, frost, death and most of all the disappearance of “light, life, leaf and love.” I keep buying mini-Phalaenopsis orchids. They have now spilled off the kitchen windowsill and into the studio. I see room for maybe six more. Oh, and twinkly lights. And paying attention: the means by which we delight ourselves. And sharing it, delight others. Beautiful entry, worth waiting for.

    • khmacomber says:

      Again, I am always a little bit floored when what I write makes any sense to anyone at all. To me this felt like a knitting project with multiple colors that had gotten all tangled and needed to be divvied up–the post-peak-foliage post, the I’m-in-the-second-half post, the I-see-it-all-again-as-a-parent post. Glad it actually came together for you. And there really is something to be said for scanning the woods for things that might have been invisible, just a month ago. And for loving where we are, when we get there–or at least, finding the elements that make this crazy life make sense and provide joy.

      Looking forward to seeing you soon!

  3. Kristen says:

    This might be one of my favorite posts of yours, both prose and photos. And I agree with you about the Camus quote! Past peak…what does that mean anyway? I never liked that phrase because, like you, I still see much beauty in the winding down. Ah well, less folks out there during that part of it, right? More to ourselves. xo

    • khm says:

      Wow, thank you so much! and ditto what I said to JZ up above. Funny how sitting and looking at a computer screen can be so debilitating, in terms of knowing if you’ve hit a note or not.

      As for the Oh So Sorry It’s Past Peak folks, well, yeah. Sad for them. I’m still willing to try to rehabilitate them into seeing the things I see. Clearly, I’m going to turn into a crazy old lady at Fresh Pond that points stuff out to unsuspecting folks for no apparent reason…

  4. Melanie Essex says:

    No. Any news from you? I had dinner with David and Joan Bright last night – in town to visit their eldest, Jenny, who is at Oxford (RHODES SCHOLAR!!!!). RIchard is in DC. TOnight I’m going to a debate between the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and Mary Bears, academic, on GREECE VS ROME.

    Terrible weather.

    XX M >

  5. Katrina Kenison says:

    I’m so glad to have read this lovely tribute to the beauty of the denouement. Thank you, Kristen, for the reminder that there’s something to be said for moving more slowly through the world, with a deeper appreciation for the subtle details that are, as you so eloquently put it, “easy to miss if you stop paying attention when things go dim.” Beautiful writing, beautiful photos, much-needed message.

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