In this interval, we hauled the hay, stacked the wood, stowed the cushions from the outdoor furniture. We transported the flowerpots that spent the summer adorning the decks around the house down the hill to the greenhouse. If the plants survive the travails of overwintering, they’ll take the ride uphill again in spring; otherwise they’ll be committed to the compost pile.
In this interval, we’ve unhooked the hoses and winterized the watering system in the garden. We ate fresh peas and beans until we got tired of the legume regimen and I blanched and froze the rest. The tomatoes plumped on their vines but refused to ripen until I brought them inside to a warm windowsill, where the uniformly green forms gradually matured into a collage of red, reddish-brown, and yellow.
In this interval, the mule deer bucks strut under their sharp antlers. They’ve grown husky at the neck and now spar with one another and harass the does. We hear bull elk bugling on the hillside below, drawing the attention of mates, rivals, and hunters.
In this interval, the grass has spun itself gold in the wind. The aspens, leaf by leaf and branch by branch, splashed the landscape yellow, taking that assignment over from the late blooming sunflowers. Polka dots of rust erupted on the leaves of the currant bushes, which then fell to the ground, where the sticky geraniums were closing out the season with a leafy flare of lurid red.
In this interval, the first frost came late, but arrived as a killer, a plunge into single digits that switched off the kaleidoscope turn—green, saffron, maroon, umber—of the scrub oak on distant slopes. Within a day after the cold snap, there was but one fall color: brown. The winter preview did not open on a feature presentation of Indian summer, not this year. The advertised show cued up immediately after the coming attractions had played. Snow has already come and gone, come (a little) and gone, and now come again.
Is there a season more complicated than autumn? Fall is bright color and fading. Preparations for the long dark are interspersed with events of celebratory gratitude. This season offers relief from the frenetic pace of the summer’s long days with its own lists, but these tasks are blessedly well-defined and finite, so unlike the ceaseless churn of warm-weather chores. For all its busyness, summer seems absurdly simplistic in comparison, and spring, with its melodramatic swings between promise and blizzard, is at least consistent in its teasing. Winter is the judicious and slightly cranky sage, counseling reflection, patience, and endurance in gruff no-nonsense terms.
Autumn, though? Autumn is melancholy and anticipatory at once. Fall portends rest, poses an ending that intimates a re-start, but only after a duration appropriate for contrition. All feels ephemeral, gradual, a slow coast toward stillness, a sense of closing that mostly—mostly—manages to avoid the provocations of finality.