I pay close attention now, because the season’s silence is closing over us, like lake water around a flung stone.

We are standing on the shore of fall, and even nature seems to know that the appropriate mood is rest. That stillness has other names — decline, repose, frost and the absence of birds. But it is the silence in the woods that calms — and alternately disturbs — me on these cool nearly autumn mornings, even when the days turn back to summer, to unforgiving heat and punishing drought.

Listen, I think, the command coming from within me early one morning, while the dog still snores at the end of the bed and I lumber downstairs, half-asleep, bumbling around in the kitchen for the makings of coffee: water, filter, grounds, fire.


Suddenly, it seems astonishing not to be disoriented by the loud whirring of electric wind, strategically funneled throughout the A-frame: big, free-standing box fans; small window exhaust fans; blades like propellers pumping overhead in ceiling fans. Now they stir nothing, and the air brims with subtler sounds. The whimper of crickets is suppressed in the first light of day spreading over the lawn like stealth.

Bird song barely breaks through the forest, leaving the yard strangely mute.

I know that great movements have created this abandoned landscape. The fall migration has gone on since our midsummer. Everything that intends a seasonal flight south has begun to shudder across the skies.

The fact that the birds and insects and animals are moving according to clocks and calendars only vaguely akin to ours brings me a deep happiness as I stand alone in a house of pine, sipping coffee hotter than air, remembering a lifetime of fall and spring. They remind me, with a midwinter surprise or a departure in early July, that the basics I take for granted are still inescapable dictates where it really counts, in the natural world: temperature, the long light vanishing, the reliable caress of the tides over the shoulders of the shoreline, the way the moon winks or goes wide-eyed with my own embrace of wonder.

There are things to be true to here: the wind drawing itself over the land like the last light blanket for summer use; the steady asters, everywhere reliable, even along the roadsides no one watches; the indefatigable goldenrod, stretching itself up over the nodding lacy heads of wild carrot; the woolly bear caterpillars and tiger moths slowed to a languor suffused with a cold season they are among the first to know.

I am already missing the birds and mourning the vacancy they leave in the landscape — and in my much smaller mind. In the height of summer, I am a spendthrift when it comes to song, pleased to live in a place of so many chords I cannot even name them all or separate their sound into discrete calls.

So, listen now, the quiet-from-within commands. A few singers are still here, chirping or whistling, trilling or cooing. Before the fields lay wide their throats to the killing frost and the woods surrender to snow, hold onto these moments, even though they slip away. These are worth living for, and letting go. 

Staff Writer North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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