Posts Tagged ‘autumn’

Early Morning, Late October

Early morning at the cottage. In summer this time of day is so utterly peaceful, sitting on the porch with coffee, watching the dawn come up slowly. Hearing the birds all around, listening to the water. The smell of pine. The promise of a summer day on the Bay.

But it’s late October and pitch black outside. I opened the back door, went out and checked the temperature (nearly 50°—not bad) on the thermometer that hangs on the pine tree. How long has a thermometer been there? I can’t say; decades at least, maybe longer than I’ve been on the planet. The tree, definitely longer. I measured it two years ago to estimate its age: ninety-something. Only a few feet from the back door, I fear we will have to take it down if we build even a slightly bigger place.

Despite the dark mornings, which do seem sudden and mournful, fall is beautiful here. Driving up to Bellaire yesterday from M72 there was lots of color, bright maples and birches mixed with the dark of pines all along the road. Near Mancelona a small mountain rose from the plain, all covered in red and gold and saddle-brown.

Driving from Bellaire to the cottage up around the end of Torch Lake was even better. The highway twists and turns, rolls up over hills and dips back down, crossing glacial moraines: the piles of silt and stones the glaciers left here as they retreated from what is now Lake Michigan. I had a series of vistas: a carpet of green field running up to a calico frieze of woods; a country lane lined with yellow maples winding away towards a distant, checkered hill; horses grazing behind a ramshackle fence, the trees glowing crimson and yellow beyond them. The road showed me these views and put them away again, like shuffling photographs—such is the speed at which we move, in cars. But even on foot I know the views would change coming around a bend, going up and downhill. I would just have longer to study each picture before it disappears into memory.

Into memory. The sun was out, and even though I was traveling at close to sixty miles an hour, I gathered and will hold onto these images through the long months away from here, the perfect gold of a sugar maple something to gnaw on this winter, like a dried husk or some prize kernel stashed away. (We are more like squirrels than we care to admit, I think.)

I see some light is just now beginning out the picture window, a deep blue color—almost like peering through water. I feel like I’m looking through the glass wall of a big aquarium, as if fish might swim by, darting in and out the trees. There’s still no wind; and I think, why shouldn’t I put my coat on and go out, as in summer? Sit in the half-light (not even—quarter-light) with my coffee and drink in the quiet one more time.

Winter will be long. I will miss this place.


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The front’s been moving through for hours. The wind wailed and the windows shook all night long, and looking out the slider this morning I can see it’s still blowing, empty branches swinging, dark clouds scudding fast out of the west. November, and something has clicked over, moved across a line of demarcation.

Yesterday we went for a long walk, thinking it would be the last of 60-degree weather for a good long while. It was dark, under the trees, and rain kept coming in fits and starts, leaving mist in the intervals. The squirrels darting across the path and up and down the tree trunks didn’t care, neither the ducks turning slow circles in the backwater of the river. There were so many birds chirping and trilling in the brushy open under the power lines that I felt like we were in a jungle, or an aviary. Every time I hear a riot of birds I can’t help but think of the people of Guam. The songbirds there have all been eaten by tree-climbing snakes, brought to the island in the holds of ships. There are no longer any birds singing on Guam – not one. I can’t imagine, how sad that would be.

Standing on a fallen tree that lay across the path, I saw the script of beetles – emerald ash borers – cut into its bare wood. An invader of our own had brought down this huge ash tree. It led me to think of the strange and somewhat scary-looking wasp we saw on a camping trip once. It turned out to be a Giant Ichneumon wasp, which uses a long, whip-like appendage to bore through tree bark and lay its parasitic eggs on the beetle larvae inside.

“We’ve seen some crazy bugs,” I said, and then we remembered the Phantom Crane fly we saw on another hike, floating above the trail like a jellyfish in an ocean of air. At the time, we couldn’t imagine what it was, gliding along like a transparent hovercraft. It seemed a creature from another world.

We stayed out longer than usual yesterday, the air being so mild. Walking around in the dimness of the woods, we surprised a couple of deer and saw their white tails retreating. Seed pods hanging from a shrub along the path looked like tiny lanterns; when I picked one up from the ground, it rattled like a maraca. The leaves are mostly down now, but their colors were spread upon the ground and here and there mixed in with the fading and the dying there was the fresh green of garlic mustard or a tuft of grass. Fall berries – bittersweet orange, plum purple – hung over the path, adorned with crystal raindrops.

There’s always so much to see outdoors that once I get started walking, I want to keep going. I wish then that I was on a backpacking trip, or that walking tour in the British Isles that’s on my bucket list.

But then again, adventure doesn’t have to be large, written in capital letters with exclamation points. There’s plenty of adventure spread around, all over the place if you can just slow down and see it, let it find you, settle on you like a misty rain, sing out to you like a chorus of birds, rhapsodizing before winter.

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Autumn Farewell

Back at the condo after closing the cottage, I feel snug and cozy, sitting on the sofa with the wind blowing the downed leaves around outside. Winter’s on the way, and I’m happy to be observing from in here today – an armchair enthusiast of the seasons.

Still, I wonder what’s going on at the cottage. After we finished packing the car, cleaning up, draining the pipes and putting up the shutters, I sat down on the sofa for a minute. It was dark inside, with the shutters on, and lifeless – about to be empty; and yet, full of memories. It was so quiet as I sat there; and I listened for a moment, as if I might hear echoes from the past. It made me sad to think of the cottage standing there, all winter, waiting. It’s strange how you can begin to think a house has a soul – as if it’s a living being. Part of me didn’t want to leave it, cold and dark and empty – I wanted to stay and keep it company; light the fire again on the hearth I had just cleaned.

Our time this trip was short, and yet so rich. I wandered in the woods; breathed deeply, lingered in the light. With the leaves down, the afternoon sun gets through the canopy and washes everything in a warm glow that is like wine for the eyes. I drank it in. I enjoyed the expected: the rich, dank smell of the fallen leaves; their colors all around me; the shadows thrown by every branch and trunk in the slanting light. And the unexpected: the snowy white of a paper birch, standing in a clearing with strips of its bark flying like ribbons in the breeze; the brilliant gold of cedar fronds floating on the surface of the swamp; the tiny toad that hopped away from the toe of my boot as I edged the marsh, hunting for photos.

Thursday evening was unseasonably warm – nearly 80 degrees, even though it’s almost November – and the combination of the warm air and the golden light of the setting sun had us wandering about the beach and the edge of the woods, looking at things. The tree that once held the tree house of my childhood – there’s just a fragment of a board still nailed to its trunk, and a pine tree is growing up right in front of it. The old white pine that’s been lying on the bank for over 20 years now – ever since it came down during the high water of the 80s. Its swirling, weathered gray trunk is covered in lichen, gray-green with tiny, poppy-red blooms sprouting from it.

I looked for the place where Dad and I buried a dead seagull I found on the beach, when I was only six or seven. It made me melancholy, thinking about the past. I remembered that the seagull’s burial spot was near the low, spreading branches of a pine; but all the trees now growing along the edge of the bank seemed too small.

Early in the morning, still lying in bed and just as I awoke, I remembered that the seagull burial and the spreading pine tree were close to the metal post that marked the north edge of our property. There’s nothing there now, except the neighbor’s newer (and more decorative) posts. The place I was seeking is gone.


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Now that we’re back from the cottage, I miss it. Even though it wasn’t so appealing the first night when we couldn’t get the furnace lit and the wind was whipping over the house, seeming to draw off every bit of heat the fireplace put out. Standing at the stove dressed in layers – including a hat – I was cold, even though we’d had a fire going for a couple of hours. Luckily we got the furnace lit later that evening – good thing, because the wind blew all night, and around nine o’clock I heard it throwing sleet against the windows.

But here I am now missing the cottage: the tiny living room lit (if not always warmed) by a crackling fire, the knotty-pine walls wrapped close around me like a sweater, the trees standing just outside the windows, swaying in the stormy gusts or standing dark and dripping with rain.

I went out in the rain Saturday afternoon. Put my slicker on and walked up the beach. The rain was steady but there was no wind so I walked up to Big Crick, three-quarters of a mile away. When I came around the point, I found that the Crick was running – surprising with the low water levels this year, but I could see the ripples moving as it flowed into the Bay. I stood for a while on the small footbridge over the creek, looking down while the soft rain dripped off my jacket. It was quiet – no wind, the shoals dried up and silent, the people mostly gone for the season.

Looking into the Crick I saw amazing green – all kinds of plants still growing, some even blooming – I noticed the pale purple flowers of wild mint. It was kind of astounding, so much growing in October after it’s been cold. I guess it takes more than a couple of overnight frosts or a few rounds of sleet to shut down the abundance of Big Crick for the year. I could not help but feel cheered by it, standing there in the rain. There’s such hope in it.

The place where the point juts out into the Bay to meet the waves is the nexus of so many elements: sea and shore, earth and sky, forest and dune, stream and Bay. A vast open space that fills with light even in the rain; a stage for the show of storms, clouds, whitecaps, sunsets. Standing there always fills me with calm. Some people believe in the phenomenon of an “energy vortex” – a place that emanates spiritual energy. I’ve never quite embraced that new age-y stuff – but standing on the footbridge in the half-light, looking down into the stream that is the last gasp of green before winter, I begin to believe.

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Our friends have gone – we dropped them at the airport this morning after hurried coffee, half-consumed, and quick, “don’t miss your plane” hugs.

It’s not September yet, but the wind out of the north is chill, the air clear in the bright sun. Everything is suddenly sharp, defined: the boundaries of colors in the water, the bold stripe of green-blue against beige where the sandy shallows end, the pale blue streaks and channels near to shore where the sky lies reflected in the surface. Even the far peninsula shows distant features: a cleft and ribbon that might be a road, a bright spot that could be a building nestled against the shore. The buoy at the tip of Old Mission is clear, standing sentinel: a sliver of white in the violet of deep water.

It’s not September yet – but the light is autumnal; it feels both more dilute, and harsh. No wonder the squirrels have been so busy, sitting high in the trees gnawing acorns so that the husks fall down on our heads. The geese are busy too, gathering in ever-growing flocks at dusk and dawn to fly back and forth from the Bay to the fields up on the hill.

Out in the water, the island appears intensely bright, the sand at its center almost white in the morning sun. If it were not so cool today, and my foot were not sore, I would be tempted to walk out there, to be bathed in that light. Let myself be scoured and revealed like the landscape, washed and buffeted and scrubbed like a shell, a pebble, a seagull’s wing.

Sometimes the approach of autumn makes me sad and regretful. Here we are still in August, although just barely, and the day is feeling like fall. Isn’t summer short enough as it is? Do we have to have a cool, bright day like this so soon? That’s how I sometimes feel, on the cusp.

But not today. The colors are too beautiful, the fresh air pouring in the windows too clean, to feel anything but grateful.

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