Autumn

Acer near Birch Walk
Photo: Derek Harper (Creative Commons)

Out strolling, I learn how
the ocher yellow birch leaves tremble
against a robin-egg-blue sky. In a fairy tale,
a man finds a grove of trees
with leaves of gold, and here, now,
I believe it to be true. He could have plucked
these very leaves
as proof of the world’s wonder.

* * *

I have lived in Northern California most of my life. There are few birch trees, if any, and few trees that even bother changing color with the coming of Autumn. The seasons are less defined, blending one into the other with little differentiation. The first signs of Fall came only a few weeks ago with a noticeable chill to the morning air, a few sporadic grey-skied days with light rains lasting no longer than a day.

I remember piles of leaves, brown and yellow and golden, covering lawns. The rustle and crunch of them beneath my sneakered feet, sweeping huge piles into the air with one sweep of my feel. I imagine these memories attached to my younger years in Alaska, but more likely it would have been California — making my nostalgia misplaced. Perhaps this is in part due in part to my present longing for a true Autumn, a true Winter, at the very least a week of storms and rain.

* * *

I don’t much care for the hero in the story of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses“, who stalks the ladies down into the forests of gold leaves and silver leaves and then ruins the party.

Though to be honest, no one comes off well in this story. The king is sending men after his sleeping daughters and chopping heads off when they find nothing. The daughters blissfully drug the men, knowing they will die for their failure.

Still, I put my sympathy with the daughters, who seek adventure and dancing and joy. Though the hero brings them home and helps their father tether them to hope, I imagine each girl, one by one, shucking off the cords and wandering away for new adventures. The door to the magic lands may be closed, but their feet are strong and the world is wide. There is enough gold in the sun and silver in the clouds to give them joy, as they discover new shores and ensnare new friends into the freedom of dancing.

* * *

In fairy tales, everything — gifts, tests, friends — come in threes. They say that about deaths, too. When celebrities die, we count them in groups of three, create a grouping of deaths and call the curse down when the third falls. As though folk tale superstition can stop the flow of time, can hold back and make sense of the chaos of daily life. Summer becomes Autumn whether we like it or not, and we all must cross the threshold of Winter to reach the Spring.

* * *

Look what has become
of my heart, the husk of a brown leaf,
hold it in your hand, watch
it crumble to dust
and feed the earth,
wait, wait,
in the cold, in the dark,
see the tender shoot
of its feeling
emerge.

Falling into Autumn

The days are getting colder here in Bay Area, California. This really just means that we can wear out light sweaters, maybe with a thin jacket over top. Meanwhile, it will probably be sunny outside, the light bright and happy, despite an ever so slight chill to there. If you’re out taking a walk, you might even build up enough warmth to forgo the jacket entirely.

The leaves are beginning to change, not in a dramatic display of colors as in other region, but a yellowing and the occasional orange. Some trees with skip the over the colors altogether and simply fall in heaps of brown. Others stay solidly green, as though they do not even realize Autumn is upon them.

I have to be grateful for what passes for winter here. How can I not? How can I complain about it being 55°F outside, when there are some areas steadily inching toward subzero temperatures as winter approaches?

And yet, I grow tired of the sunshine and some part of myself longs for a proper storm, for pounding rain, for growing puddles and growling thunder and flashes of lightening. (It would be too much to hope for snow.) I find rain to be cleansing to the spirit. It makes the world smell green and clean, and I feel lightened.

When I was a kid, my brothers and sisters and I would run out into the rain in tank tops and shorts. We’d go down to the parking area, where the spouts spewed water from the second story like a waterfall. We would stand beneath the spouts and pretend they were waterfalls.

Now, I enjoy sitting on the porch, while water falls around me, letting the sound thrum me into relaxation. The tap-tap-tapping of drops in the leaves. I wrap myself up in a blanket, pour a cup of hot tea, open a book, and let it be a backdrop to my afternoon — at least until my fingers grow too cold to turn the pages.

I think days of rain (and maybe it’s because they come so sparingly) are my favorite part of Fall and Winter. They allow moments of comfort and warmth, as you huddle inside, drinking hot cocoa or tea, eating cookies and comforting treats. They allow internal searching, an implied intimacy, as you cuddle close to a loved one.

What are your favorite things about Autumn and Winter?