In spite of the heat, I know autumn is coming because the forest offers up its signals day by day.
I notice it first one evening, as I sit, staring out the wall of windows in the living room, right into the midriff of the forest. The trunks hold their torsos taut, and the breeze is not even substantial enough to be called a sigh. But I watch it moving through the high branches like a spent lover, slowly, as though contentment were fulfillment and the vast unclouded sky a sheet of blue.
And then the leaves begin — as softly and lightly as breath into breath, or dusk into night — to fall.
Days ago, I had noticed one or two drifting down in the light of the yard, bright as the blade-colored back of a grasshopper, rocking like small dories in the ocean of air, slowly sinking, like the season itself, summer into fall. But in the high hours of the day, I have to be as busy as the last collapsing bees, thrumming about the work that has been given me to do.
Everything has its duty to everything else, I remind myself, regardless of beauty or bounty, and I am expected do what I can to embrace my obligations: a serviceable home, a long-suffering dog, a healed heart in a mortal, leaden world.
It had struck me then, in the split-second between footsteps, that autumn was rolling over the land like a sweet invasion, some liberating promise of harvest and cooler nights that would come, welcome or not. But I had places to go and something I was pretending was important to do, so I suspended the disbelief in my own little life long enough to take simple stock of things.
I saw again that nature was keeping track of time with a different clock than mine, its hands synchronized with the tides, the blush of leaves, the hefty corn still a burden on husks going to brown. All the sands slipping through the hourglass seemed swift and certain as an avalanche, and for an instant, I let myself feel the heaviness of aging, the weight of the seasons stacking up, year upon year, like the decomposing veins of leaves on the forest floor.
New life will come from this, I realized with the incalculable, involuntary fire of nerve upon nerve, muscle on bone, my heart still beating, my mind casting circles of thoughts dissolving instantly. I knew the resurrection here in the shadows of the trees would not be mine, nor the birches’, nor the hemlocks’, nor the owls’ who cut the night in two with stealthy, silent wings.
I understood it would belong to all of us and none of us, no creatures great or small, simply the dissolution into dust that would cling one later day to the pads of a mole’s claws, the velvet of a passing antler, the whisper of a feather or the tail of a muskrat dragging its signature in the mud bank by the pond. Cling, and be carried on, collected, combined and, in some other season, re-created, rekindled, restored.
I like sometimes to think of things only in this way, how nature will order it all — our offspring, our love, our alarm. Nature chides and corrects us, even when we are not listening, even when we have concluded that we are the all-important, essential business at hand.
Right now the only business at hand is being conducted by the crickets, rubbing their wings together in the greed of mating, in what might become, in any case, a measure of things. I have witnessed half a dozen butterflies in as many days — skippers and mourning cloaks, swallowtails and monarchs — in their deliberate flight. I’ve seen dragonflies stout as stogies flung into the air.
I see the season of all things moving, and I among them. I know it is winding down and that the cold will come again, whipping up snow and embers as winter arrives. But for this moment, here on the far edge of summer, while the harvest still extends its plenty and the migrant birds disappear — rising like a flood out of the canopy or aloft with alarm, alone — every thought and each plan I ever had wafts away from me like milkweed seed in gusting wind. I am full of nothing but silence and eternity now; I am a rest in the song of the spheres.
North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: [email protected]