Before the rain begins, a single shaft of sunlight finds its way through the clouds and falls to earth to kiss October goodbye.
Her gold is layered on the ground now, in blankets meant to keep the sleeping ones cozy while the winter days roll by. But the sun saw her alchemy as she turned the leaves from green to gold. He watched as she flung bright crimson to the sky, as she gently led the last of the songbirds southward, as she set out berries for their travels and to nourish the creatures who were building their winter burrows. He watched her ripen the last of the harvest and heard her call in the swift, cold winds.
And all of this she did with joy and utmost grace. And the sun loved her.
And so, before the rains came to lower the curtain on her play, a single shaft of sunlight fell to earth and kissed October goodbye.
Along the creek, a clump of thistle stands. For all their spiky thorns they look feminine somehow, with their curled leaves arching upward as if to groom their faces or arrange their hair. Their purple flowers have long since gone, but not their grace.
As I gaze at them standing there, in the spotlight of the autumn sun, I imagine they could be a gaggle of young girls, readying to fly on stage in some ballet or to leap into the water for a choreographed swim.
I can almost hear them gossip, their high-pitched little giggles riding the colored leaf-boats all the way downstream.
You can tell by the way they lean into the wind that they can hardly wait. The very next gust could be the one. It’s a strong wind, and they call to one another, “Ready? Ready?”
What a day to sail! The sky is clear and endless. If you did everything just right, you could ride for miles. You could turn cartwheels. You could catch an updraft and look an eagle in the eye. Everything is possible. Likely, even.
Ah, what a grand day to meet your destiny! What a grand day to be free!
“This could be,” the TV’s weather guy says, “our last warm day this year. In fact, by Saturday, we could be seeing some snow.” He points to the waves of color on the map.
I walk to the creek. A deepening blanket of leaves stretches across its width like sandbars, leaving only shallow puddles to mirror the clear, blue sky.
The leaves that remain on the trees look ready to fly, poised for the coming wind and rain to carry them down.
But right now, in the creek’s puddles the gold sings and it lingers still on the tops of some trees. I take it as a gift, this one, last golden day.
On Saturday, there may be snow.
You, whose flower feeds the Monarchs, may your feathers lift our wishes high. May your children fly forth and prosper.
You, who have disappeared from so much of our land, may your every seed find a place in welcoming soil and give rise to more of your kind.
You, who show us each fall how the roughest shell can hold exquisite beauty, carry our wishes to the gods of earth and sky: May you thrive. May you thrive. May you thrive.
The last shreds of autumn’s colors glow in the afternoon sun. They don’t mind that they are the last. To them, it’s an honor to be chosen to sing the last notes of the song.
And oh, how vibrantly they sing, their notes gliding across the still waters of the pond and rising in vibrant echoes to our eyes.
Everything happens in its proper time, everything. All our eagerness to get to tomorrow or to hold on to this one blessed hour or to hours long past means nothing. The Yes measures the lengths of things with perfection, whether we see it or not.
The bright sun cannot bring back summer. The picnics are done. The swing set is still. But the maple, who gathered the laughter, who watched the games, who saw the children running and running and the old ones telling their tales, keeps the memories.
She is filled with them, as she filled with the summer sun itself. They’re stored in her cells and will nourish her body as she rests and color her winter dreams.
Oh, so many summers have past. And she has stored them all. They blend into one. They sleep in her boughs and ooze through her veins. In spring, the force of them will push out red buds that will burst into the newborn green of a summer both ancient and new.
But now, as her leaves turn russet and prepare to fly away, she sings summer’s swan song, a witness to its joy.
The leaves gather in a pool on the surface of the lake as if to paint an image of the treetops from which they have sailed.
The lake participates. Above the golden gathering, it creates ripples to mimic wind. Beneath it, the lake is calm as earth.
Wherever we sail, the heart remembers home, its source and its destination.
The black rocks along the creek are awash with fallen leaves, and the creek, too. But that’s not enough. The creek drinks in the trees themselves, their blazing gold, the green at their feet, their charcoal trunks and filigree of branches floating on its surface looking up at the sky, which the creek also captures.
Before the ice comes, before the days turn gray, the water fills itself with the rippling colors. In winter, it will feed their gold and crimson songs to the fishes, painting their dreams. And we, walking these rocks when they’re covered in snow, will dream that we hear them, too.
Somewhere I read that you call beautiful what you love the most. Today, for me, it is walking here, on this path that skirts the small pond, the blue sky above, the last of the season’s leaves glowing in the sun.
It encompasses everything: all that breathes and that which gives rise to it, the endless turning of the seasons, one smoothing into another, and all they hold. That includes the children who ran, laughing, along this path in summer, and the parents who followed them, the green heron who made his home on the banks of the pond, the blue heron that flew overhead. And of course all the dragonflies and their kin, and the fishes, the worms in the soil, the soil itself.
It is all holy, and beautiful beyond measure, despite all the meanness the world holds.