The iconography of changing colors garners plenty of attention this time of year. Deservedly so, I suppose; even here, where the most charismatic foliage species are pretty rare, there’s a good show. The mounded forms of currant and mountain mahogany flare like earthbound mini fireworks, puffs of red and orange lighting up the meadows. The scrub oak rusts on hillsides in the middle distance, and on far slopes yellow semaphores signal the location of aspen groves have been blending in with the evergreens all summer.
I enjoy the colors, to be sure, but this year what I’m noticing most is how the changes pull my mind away from the tight focus on chores that’s conscripted my attention for the past few months.
Summer, it seems, has become my season of immediacy. Each day presented at least one item that had gone critical and needed to be done right away. The Gotta-do regularly shoved the Oughtta-do farther down the list, chaining days together with a seemingly endless litany. I felt like a trotting horse rigged with blinders, hustling from one furlong pole to the next on an endless circular track: meet the electrical contractor, mow that patch of cheatgrass along the road, finish stringing the cross-fencing in the big pasture, pick the alpine strawberries before they rot on their stems, get that index project off to the publisher on time, haul a load of hay, meet the electrical contractor, pull the thistles below the barn….
The end of August brought a few days of unsettled weather. A gang of clouds loitered around Pikes Peak for a few days, and when they finally dispersed the mountaintop was gleamed, fleetingly, with snow. The incongruity of the whitewashed peak rising behind sunflowers, purple asters, and broom snakeweed rioting next to the garage smacked my eyeballs hard enough to break my stride as I came and went. Wow. Change is coming. I paused…but kept running.
On the autumnal equinox, I woke to a chorus of bull elk greeting the rising sun with drawn-out wails and squealing cries, all sounding like they were calling through a long hollow pipe. I know the bulging is lusty, but by the third hour it had veered toward the comic. I envisioned a band of wayward dinosaurs congregating beyond the first line of pine trees. The calls were near enough that I kept wandering to the window, expecting an animal—probably an ungulate but just maybe a giant lizard—to hove into view.
And now, fall. It seems odd that these shorter days—less daylight in which to execute the frenetic charge, right?—abruptly feel less intense. The big summer projects are mostly wrapped up. The annual weeds have spent themselves and, having dropped whatever seeds I could not intercept, are beneath notice to me now, almost. The perennial weeds are still growing, but their efforts are directed rootward, safe from weed whacking and tugging hands. The garden was brushed by frost in late September, and the forecast suggests it will be felled by a string of hard freezes this week. The to-do list is still on my desk, but it’s extending more slowly. The tasks it records are starting to migrate inside the house, and inside my head, where long-deferred writing projects are floating back toward consciousness.
Without the press of weather- and deadline-dependent projects, distractibility is re-entering my days. My task-based myopia is more likely to be interrupted, as when the raspy kee-yeech kee-yeech kee-yeech of a golden eagle crying as it soars along the spine of the ridge summons me to the window; I watch as the bird shrinks to a brown hyphen in the distance. Instead of collapsing into a coma after dinner, I stroll down the road with my husband, or at least step outside to check the compass bearing of the Milky Way. Waiting for a cup of tea to brew or finishing the last bites of my lunch, I stand on the deck, listening for elk and looking at the gentle hills of the middle distance, where I might see the last clumps of scrub oak color-shift from leathery green to rust or topaz, if I stand there long enough.