The sound and the feel of wet sand gathering and falling away from my well-worn shoes as I walked down the lane on a late-October day, recently, alerted me of how quiet it is, now. The sky was nearly clear — a miraculous sight to behold after so many cloudy days and half-light.
Looking up at the blue expanse streaked with feathery strands of white, I noticed the trees were now nearly bare. The leaves that once turned the wind to white noise — almost like the sound of falling raindrops — have made their annual round trip. The wind now moves nearly uninhibited past the bare bodies of birches, beeches, maples, and aspens, pausing only briefly at the bristly, whistling resistance of evergreen boughs.
I rounded the bend just as a gust blew over the crest of the hill and heard the rustling of the forest floor, the swirling of fallen leaves stirring up that familiar scent of autumn. Only now, with the visible traces mostly gone, the scent has changed character. The fragrance of fallen leaves blending with the spice of withering grass and wildflowers now alludes more to memory than anticipation.
We’re now in that part of autumn that no longer presents postcard views, entertaining out-of-town spectators. Now, all that remains is the calm, and that fragrance suggesting the recent departure of a very distinguished visitor — hints of Darjeeling, musk, and the faintest wisp of pipe smoke still hanging in the air.
It has been a busy autumn — not uncommon for us. With the last bits of harvest from the garden coming in and the farmer’s markets and farmstands offering up the fruits of autumn, it has been a time of hunting and gathering… and preserving and eating.
The intoxicating smells of autumn outside, intermingling with the equally intoxicating smells of the autumn kitchen… Ozark Pudding Cake. Ripe Bartlett pears sliced and packed away or simmering slowly into spreadable delectability. The last of the swiss chard being blanched and packed away for the cold, dark months when greens will be a cheerful presence on the plate. Hot chile peppers sliced and dried for the soup pot. And, soon, apples and pumpkins will have their moment.
The first hoary frost came, recently — indicating the next visitor is on his way. James and I ambled about the garden and marveled at the hundreds of little frozen metaphors all around us — the frosted and muted flowers and buds that still hadn’t gotten the memo about summer’s departure.
On that particular day, the leaves were still above our heads, but falling so quickly, en masse, that the sound of their descent was constant. It was an eerie sort of quiet punctuated by the sound of footsteps all around — the darker side of my imagination hearing the encroaching footsteps of cold and darkness, remorse and regret… the lighter side hearing the approach of quiet and rest, calm and introspection.
All of nature is inscribed with the postscript “Autumn Was Here”. And now in its absence, before the arrival of winter, there remains the presence of this unnamed season of quiet and uncharted beauty. Embrace the unnamed season.
(The foliage photos for this post were taken on a recent hike in the Houdek Dunes Natural Area and also in our ten-acre kingdom.)