"What man can stand with autumn on a hilltop and fail to see the span of his world and the meaning of the rolling hills that reach far to the horizon?" (Hal Borland)
This afternoon the northwest side of the park and the lower field were blessedly clear of the usual brightly clad darting soccer-kids and their milling, indifferent parents. Duncan and I had crossed Bowles, tromping over the fallen leaf bodies in the curb to weave through the gathered crowds. Once on the far side of the queen willow, holding court over the tall reeds and cattails bowing and bending low at her feet, the field opened up before us like an unexpected sanctuary. The elms on its western edge have long since given up their Autumn struggle and looked bony and sickly, almost obscene against the faraway hollow blue of the mountained sky. But the field spread before us long and green and the maples and cottonwoods ringing her other boundaries were full and bloated with color. We spent much of last winter there playing in refuge from the wind at the base of its low hill, but there has been little reason to visit it since. There are places in the world which are meant almost strictly for specific times and seasons and it seems I have found another. Duncan was lucky enough to find a good, solid throwing stick which he preferred to gnaw upon rather than chase, and so I unrolled myself out on the ground, rested my head among the tall blades of grass which, at this time of year, feel cold and damp, even if they are not, slipped my hands behind my head and watched the sky move as only Autumn skies do, swiftly and with unknown purpose, clouds spread haphazardously about, mingling as indifferent as strangers among each other. Defying their nature they did not blend or merge and grow indistinguishable, like people in a crowd, but moved cautiously, revolving around one another, like drops of oil in water. From where I watched, my glorious red dog chipping away on the fractured femur of a maple branch with his diligent and purposeful teeth, the fuzzy, almost transparent clouds made impressions in the sky like the fleshy undersides of alabaster baby feet dipped in heavy cream. My fingers, restless worms, tubed through the grass on the hill above my head, blind eyes seeking contact, catching and crunching the few stray leaves which had fallen in the hours since the park's grounds crew had mulched them en masse earlier in the day. My hand fell upon an elm twig, pliable and green at the place where it had broken free of the rest of the tree, its skin still tender and warm with ridges heavy and knuckled like the bony finger of an old woman, the kind of thing I imagine Gretel offered to the witch who wanted only to fatten up her and Hansel before making a dinner of them. My fingers rejoiced in its texture and weight and because I did not use my eyes, did not commit its color and speckled skin to memory, I knew it as intimately and as fully as a lover's body, traced and caressed under the silken sheets of midnight.
And this, I suppose, is what I love most about this bittersweet season, that even though The Universe placates our fear and apprehension with explosions of color, so much more is offered through its scents and sounds, the feel of it on the skin of our faces and hands, the whispering of the leaves dancing down the street, the sweet, pungent flavor of the wind on our tongues. This is the time to close our eyes and feel our most alive, to remember and burn our brightest, rejoice in the beating of our hearts.