It has long been noted that nature’s cycles of life appear to mimic human passages: birth/creation-recreation; youthful abundance and verve; hearty richness of maturity; and a gradual slowing down, a blurring of many sorts of acuity, contemplative and completed before shedding sentience. But we all, despite our years on earth, feel and respond to the ancient power of nature’s comings and goings, its surprises, cataclysms and miracles.
What is it about the turning of leaves that stirs us with creeping gold, rust and persimmon, that slow descent of sways and dips and lifts, landing again on earth? I am overcome with such beauty, its poignancy woven with liveliness. Though I do find I want to somehow hold off the dimming of summer’s sunlight. I’m not ready, I think, while the tug of autumnal ways pulls me a little more. It is not far off, peeking around the greenery.
Autumn. For some of us, a turning inward is initiated, perhaps a hint of melancholy shadowing thoughts. For others, a quickening deep within bones and blood gives rise to renewed movement, a good rousing. And still others grimly prepare for the chill that will define the air taken in, sharp and tingling, while winds haul their loads of precipitation: driven rain, ice, snow. The cold even determines daily decisions as we readapt. For doesn’t summer greet us with open arms? Such brazen light, heat slathering us with dampness, a glow arising from once protected, now tender length and breadth of skin. The hours of sunshine that elicit sharp shadows, vivid and sheer, now thin as a more variable light occurs, presaging a shift in season. Is nature withholding light, storing it away for another time and place? We may become ravenous for it during winter’s monochromatic scenes.
Whatever we are doing and wherever we live, if autumn visits our geography, it provokes alterations in feeling and activity.
I am just beginning to think about saying goodbye to summer, even though Oregon can tease us with bright skies for another month or so. But the neighborhoods are quieter as I take my daily walk; the children are back in school. There have been spatterings of freshening rain, foretelling deluges to come. Summer will hang on by a thread. Speaking of which, the spiders are busy spinning huge, extravagant webs while many are finding their way indoors. I found two in the bathroom and one on my bed’s quilt the past week…a sure sign.
Fall was usually my favorite time of year as a child in Michigan. Then came winter, that kind of holy mess and celebration of wildness deep snows brought. Spring was moody and fickle, often hard to count on or manage. But summers were hot, cloyingly so, the endless days filled with water activities and yard games with neighbor kids. There was a languor to it that didn’t occur at any other time, and it didn’t always well suit me. Sluggish in the morning, I’d tend to trick myself into getting out of bed. Sometimes the mouth-watering smells of breakfast were enough to move me but more often I’d have to remind myself: afternoon swimming, maybe early roller skating or biking before the blazing sun wants to kill me, but for sure kick-the-can after sundown. Oh, and a walk in the birch woods. And reading and writing in the maple tree after I eat. That brought me back to the edge of my bed; my list of options set legs in motion. I just had to plow through the heaviness left from yesterday’s heat and again gathering. Ignore, too, the uneven traces of sunburn increasing body warmth a notch. (Who wore sunblock then? We used baby oil to attract the sun’s shine.)
Some people seem built for more heat and the languid pace it instills. It’s like they’re supercharged with overamped solar energy. Though dense moisture of Midwestern heat is absent here, I’ll yet stretch myself to embrace midday outdoor activities. There’s only so much sun that can fall upon me before I yearn to fall asleep–unless I move faster. Lengthy exposure to temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, however, makes my repaired, regulated heart beat heavily. But I also luxuriate in being less swaddled in clothing, and count on dry paths rather than muddy as feet pound woodland trails. I relish sitting on our balcony in morning with mug of tea and a good book, feet bare. And in evening, air a silken coolness, the stars a bright mystical map. I know this will be harder to embrace after autumn arrives, as winter’s long rains tail close behind.
Summer time lake living is a whole other state of being, rife with such choices there is barely time to enjoy them all. I do miss that experience. My family didn’t own a cottage–I stayed at friends’ and attended many lakeside summer camps and also enjoyed family camping on wooded lake shores. But my husband, Marc, was privileged to visit his grandparents each summer at Bay View, started by Methodists in northern Michigan in 1875. It’s situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, on Little Traverse Bay. It was planned as a part of the Chautauqua movement which has continued to spread across the country, fostering cultural and educational experiences for lifelong learning. Operated from May until October–a usual “high season” for Michiganders–the Bay View community has four hundred-fifty cottages and two inns. It has the distinction of being a National Historic Landmark community. To say that it’s “pretty as a postcard” does not do it justice.
Sweet-with-a-dab-of-sour, Grandma Susie presided over a two-story white Victorian house with ease, efficiency and more than a little happiness. It stood on a quiet tree-lined street, three blocks from the bay. I visited many times after marrying Marc. Our children loved going as much as did we. Marc and his grandmother regaled us with stories of his youth, the daily sailing and swimming, fishing, camping, hiking, tennis playing, bonfires, dances, and the occasional fixes and scrapes he got into. He grew up there, he’s always said, and it made an imprint on him, is yet a vision of life he holds dear. Grandma Susie made certain he attended Sunday church services and community picnics as well as many classical concerts. (The music programming remains a whole other excellent aspect for Bay View homeowners and public, alike.) The village air was swamped with scent of pine and the musky smell of water and earth, the usual emanations of life up north. The great body of water of Lake Michigan is so vast it is like a fresh water sea, dangerous deep sooner than later and at some point a numbing cold. This stopped no one. Summers were Marc’s heaven-on-earth, as he tells it, and I am certain that is true. When they were over, the locking up and battening down for the upcoming snowy onslaught was a ritual everyone knew well, not completed without a bittersweet sigh.
The beloved house was sold at his grandmother’s death–the taxes had gotten so high, no one lived in Michigan, anymore–but the memories of those splendid times give us joy, even helped shape who we all are. What Bay View was for Marc, my time at Interlochen Arts Camp was for me, so I understand. It’s not surprising that our old northern landscape may yet nab the prize for summer season–it is strewn with 11,000 inland lakes and over 300 named rivers and is heavily forested. The next best thing is Oregon, we think, with over 6,ooo lakes and many wild and scenic rivers. And no humidity, at least where we live.
It’s been a rewarding time, this summer, compared with the last one. I had to stay off then hobble about on a bad foot for three months. I’ve made up for it in 2016, hiking and walking every week-end in a variety of places including Columbia Gorge, coastal forests or oceanside trails, wildlife refuges in Washington and Oregon, as well as tamer urban greenways. My gratitude is abundant, that I can climb (jump if needed), push myself, experience discomfort yet trudge on to that rewarding “zone” where life seems well aligned, deeply harmonious within and without. I would be thrilled to be even heartier; I’m not the wilderness backpacker I was in much younger years. I haven’t even been camping, sleeping on rocky ground in a tiny two person tent, for about five years. Maybe I should try again–you can’t beat coffee perked over an open fire and storytelling as the moon rises. Or am I romanticizing? Never mind, I suspect all wonderment has a few hidden flaws.
Ah, well, it seems I’m still caught by the distracting if waning spell of summer–while enchantments of autumn beckon me. The temperature slips downward bit by bit. I am wearing socks sometimes with tennis shoes rather than bare or sandaled feet. I sported a flowery scarf the other day just in case I got chilly. And–this is a real clue–drinking hot tea more, instead of iced. My soft yellow rose blanket is at the foot of the bed, readied.
On Labor Day we took one of our seasonal tours of Elk Rock at Bishop’s Close. I toted along my hoodie in case coolness lasted. There were clear signs of change-in-progress. Some grassy areas were now golden, partly due to lack of rain, but also because it is time. Leaves twirled down, laced pathways with lovely shapes and a hint of ripening colors. The trees shook their branches in the breeze; the sound was like rattles full of seeds, twigs or plant matter being shaken by unseen hands. There was a bright hush, silence filled with soughing. Scurrying feet and sudden cries of jays and crows marked our passage as other birds chirped and nattered. I could see from a hilly perch above the river the boaters, even a water skier and folks sunning on a rocky peninsula. The wind left a light chill and then sun managed to overcome it. We went on. Many flowers had seen their end with some replaced by different ones.
And then: a banded woolly bear caterpillar! I look for them each fall and there it was, hanging onto a thin stem above an algae-covered pond. This attractive black and rust-orange banded critter winters in its caterpillar form and pupates into an Isabella tiger moth. It is said that the wider or more black bands, the harsher the winter. This one was a typical specimen, auguring our usual temperate winter, if the lore is true-which it tends to be. It’s a delight to see them; it is that moment that it starts to feel that autumn is imminent.
I wait for it’s coming, for the slice and dazzle of wind, the sun rays blazing through fisted or galloping clouds before dimming again, the raindrops that will first mist, then inundate days and thrum the nights. The hours with knees pulled up in the Lazy-Boy chair, turquoise afghan my mother made draped about. Walks with rain parka hood covering most of my face, rain drumming my body, streaming over all not well shielded. That deep sky like a cup of grey and ebony that is a comfort so often, heralding time to retreat a bit more, to seek quieter moments between the moments I may have been missing. There are many virtues to extol regarding autumn. Getting cozier is only one.
But first, let the summer sun fade as might a bedazzling debutante and her elegant beau at the end of the party. I shall put on my mantle of age, marvel, hum and dance under blue skies or rainy. And God will commend to us this last spark and sizzle, then restfulness again.