We wave Mark off for his weekend in western New York. I turn to walk through the carport, back into the house, and I am distracted by a brisk breeze that tipples dry leaves in the front yard. They float, crisp and yellow, on the updraft; they lazily wend their ways into the neighbors’ yard across the street.
I have been taming the lazy early-autumn drift by mowing the leaves into mulch, but suddenly the trees are industriously shedding, getting serious about molting their summer growth. This weekend, I realize, it’s time to break out the rake.
But it rains all day Saturday, loosening even more leaves onto the grass. On Sunday morning, I wield the rake, and I drag loads of leaves to the grassy strip between the street and the little rock wall. I fill four sturdy black bags, and Jim helps me drag them back to the alley, to where the city workers will pick them up.
It is autumn, and time to rake.
The rains come back, and it is good: there are things to do inside. I finish one project, corresponding madly in the last days before deadline with Terri; we make a concert of words and thoughts. Finally she emails me a picture of our finished product, now delivered, and we both feel very proud.
I drag my notes out and polish up a paper. I email a new contact, and I back-and-forth with some other women, retired women, who want to get together for lunch. We pick a place and set a date and mark our calendars.
I think about the season, and I think about retirement, and I ponder new starts and the growing flexibility of time and pursuits.
It is autumn and time to hunker down inside, to reconnect, to rediscover interests long left to simmer unnoticed.
I buy two bags of McIntosh apples. I make a pie. We eat polished apples, crunching juicy bites. By the time Mark drives off, there are only five apples left. A friend mentions that she has made apple crisp.
I peel apples and lightly grease a thick ceramic pie plate. I heat the oven and I mix brown sugar and rolled oats and butter and cinnamon until it’s a crumbly mass and I layer and sprinkle and put the stuff in to bake.
“It smells like fall,” says Jim.
Another friend mentions making gumbo and I run to open The Joy of Cooking. I pull chicken thighs from the chest freezer and smoked sausage from the freezer upstairs. We will have spicy gumbo for Mark’s homecoming, with apple crisp and whipped cream. All that cooking warms the rainy day kitchen.
By the time Mark pulls in the next day, the sun is high and the temps climb into the 80’s.
It is autumn, time to bake and simmer; time to welcome a completely changeable day.
I read my way into a stack of thick books, and I realize I have appointments on every single day. I email retired friends and we joke about not having time to work—how did we ever fit that in? I meet with some new connections, two passionate professionals working to build college opportunities for young people who are disenfranchised and often forgotten. They are wonderful people; it is a wonderful cause. I leave the coffee shop excited and ready to dig in.
And we travel into the hills of Ohio, to places we’ve never explored before. We see the home where Clark Gable was born, meet two amazing volunteers who helped to make the museum a reality, look at pictures of The King, and at his 1954 Coupe de Ville, at his monogrammed pajama top. We think we need to get a copy of The Misfits, read a biography of Gable.
We drive through a torrential downpour, on winding, narrow country roads, past where a peace officer waves us into the other lane. There is a tow truck pulling an aging minivan from the roadside ditch.
There is no emergency medical vehicle; we hope that no one was hurt.
And we twist around corners, and we edge over on the odd times when another car approaches, sharing that narrow strip of asphalt. The wipers whip madly. And then suddenly the rain abates. The sun shines, and we pull up to another historical marker, this one for the birthplace of George Armstrong Custer, whose story was both lustrous and deeply tainted. We wander through the informative kiosk, our curiosity about his Civil War life teased by shared shreds of story. We stand before the imposing statue. We look over the hills and there is a rainbow, strong and bold.
It is autumn, with triumphant stories and desolate ones, with reminders of disaster and hopes of glory.
I come home, in the dark, from a meeting, and the dog trots gingerly out to meet me, gently butting, turning her head.
“Wait,” I say, “is something…?”
Mark crouches, turns Greta’s muzzle, and we see her left eye, swollen and weeping.
“Damn!” he says. “She surprised a black cat on the backyard step; they got into it. I think it scratched her.”
She goes to ground, Greta does, creeping into her doggy bed, sighing, hiding the hurt eye. She does not move when I reach to pet her. She does not want to eat.
She is so still I check to see if she is breathing. I make an appointment for the first available morning opening at the vet’s.
And I realize my foot hurts and my knee creaks and that age brings more than freedom with it.
It is autumn and I begin to dread goodbyes.
But the morning brings sunlight and the dog, suddenly, lifts her head and jumps from her perch and trots to the back door; she opens both eyes wide and licks my hand, and we walk through falling leaves and crunching acorns. She sniffs and explores, and she is trotting; she’s excited. At home, I scoop out a good bit of food and she eats greedily and begs for hot dog treats.
The vet finds a scratch on the white of her eye, administers drops, tells me she’ll be fine with rest and medication.
And I bring her home. We turn right around, the whole family, traveling to take Jim to an appointment, to hit our favorite bookstore, to eat a hearty dinner at an Italian restaurant. It rains a little on the drive in; the sun pierces scudding clouds as we head for home.
And Mark picks the last of the kitchen-sink-garden tomatoes, and the carport shelters drifting piles of leaves. Even when the days are hot, the nights are cool. It’s dark by 8 PM.
I think that we need to sort the winter coats, get the boots out, match the gloves and mittens.
It is autumn: winter is coming.
Metaphor and reminder, paradoxical vortex, wind-blown messenger-season. Time of change, of growth, of healing; time of comfort. Time to recognize the reality of loss.
It is autumn and time to hunker down, to appreciate; time to prepare for what’s to come.