This was the day Autumn came. It whispered us awake from bed with the soft patter of drops running down the window and rain dancing in the puddles that had gathered and were milling around the parking lot below. The wind, hushed and secretive, courted the leaves in the trees, made pretty little promises to them and then rushed coyly away around the side of the building. The sun has been forgetful of us and concealed her bashful body behind impossible layers of clouds, gathered around and below her like a dragging skirt.
In the evening, even though the sky had somehow managed to cast away the dark costume of the day, the air was still cold and Duncan's breath preceded him across the park in great heaving clouds he snorted from the damp and spongy soil. The puddles reflected the sun and seemed less like puddles and more like gaping holes punched straight through the earth where light was born and burst forth brighter than our own lazy star. And as darkness fell I could smell the lonely scent of smoke rising from the chimneys from the valley across the lake, strong and warm, but distant and as empty as the past.
I spent twenty-one Autumns in Idaho but it's my time in The Shire of the Midwest that I think of each year when the fires begin burning on the hearths. I remember those nights walking across the near-perfect campus of Lake Forest College where I never quite felt I belonged, the mist rising up from the surrounding ravines, the halo around the yellow moon, and the smoke from other people's homes teasing me. Were it not for all the trees and the tall walls I could have peeked in their windows and been warmed by the glow. But because I could not I whistled Autumn songs to myself, listening to the echo off the brick buildings and wondering if I would ever feel at home in Autumn in whatever place I happened to reside.
Nearly twenty years later I am still wondering, but with Duncan walking at my side, brushing against my leg or turning his nose into the cup of my hand, I feel close to home. Not quite there, but close.