I don’t consider myself a fall kinda girl. Born on spring’s cusp, raised in the south, I once ripped the first reddening leaf from a backyard dogwood tree, loath to acknowledge what that blushing leaf presaged — fall followed by inevitable winter. Even then, with our puny winters, I was not a fan. Then I moved north, to live in a land where for months during the year, ice cream can be stored on the back patio. The prospect of wearing sweaters (and turtlenecks no less) doesn’t thrill me at all. I get no kicks from parkas and ice fishing.
Autumn still presages that fourth-place season, but over time, October’s charms have wooed me. Blazing golds, crimsons and oranges and ambers make my heart soar. I love the way the burning bushes start out all hussy red and fade over the month into demure rose. For nearly three months we live in an ever- changing paint box of warm hues, as if Nature knows our souls must stock up for the coming winter months. Like the woodpile against the shed, the colors of the changing leaves are insurance against the season of bleak.
You don’t have to do anything to harvest fall’s beauty. No weeding; no chasing away marauding rabbits; no digging or dividing clumps of perennials; no backaches. Fall is a blowout freebie of color, a Jackson-Pollack-pull-out-all-the-stops season where the palette changes by the hour, nudged by temperature swings and the ever-changing light. In no other month but October does the sky echo the cerulean brilliance of the heavens out west. October has grown on me, nudging me to embrace the chill in the air and savor the sun on my face, knowing it will be centuries before we are reacquainted.
Two weeks ago I experienced an October wonder that can only happen where sudden drops in nighttime temperature work their magic on summer’s tired green leaves. I was driving home from work, dreading the slow chug along pockmarked roads woven thru with careless cell-chattering crazies. The skies were dark with a passing rain, which was just going to make it all the worse. I set out and within moments the ride was transformed. The dark clouds ahead of me didn’t budge but the sun had begun to break through in the west behind me, igniting the trees lining the road. Each and every tree glowed against the leaden sky, as if some cosmic paintbrush had tipped the leaves with light, deepening their colors to ruby, topaz, citrine. I was mesmerized. The burning bushes weren’t just burning, but combusting in waning sunlight and their own inner brilliance. The slanting rays were magic wands turning every tree in sight into something so spectacular I was literally gasping out loud.
For the first time in my life, the artists’ cry about rushing to paint before the light changed took on a whole new meaning. In a way I never had, I experienced that time-is-running-out feeling and how do I capture all this before the light changes? How to I remember it all? How do I share it? Get it down? I uderstood as never before — painting isn’t about rendering a tree, house, a figure coming home at dusk. It’s that mad dash to snare the rapture of that ephemeral relationship between light and subject. Never before had I been more blessed to be stuck in traffic.
And if that wasn’t enough, at daily juggernaut of my ride, I looked to the right and there, just waiting for me to notice, a slice of rainbow peeked through the grey skies. The words “slice” and “peek” give the impression this bit of rainbow was something slender and delicate. But it was more of what the French call a “tranche” — a thick slice, something with heft, hacked from the main. It was not so much of arch, but a stocky abbreviation of same striated with, well, every color of the…you get the idea. I literally couldn’t believe my eyes. Couldn’t believe the show that had been mine to witness for going on fifteen minutes now. Mother Nature was shouting with everything she had, “Hey looky HERE! See what I can do!” I drove the next two miles or so dazed by it all, keeping as much attention as I needed to on the traffic and using the rest to revel in the landscape beyond the windshield.
Then, at what is normally the final irritating intersection, one more treat lay in store as light and cloud and Force came together. That stocky abbreviation of a rainbow of three miles back reappeared. No longer abbreviated, it arched across the sky from one end to the other, suspending itself above me in one mind-boggling bridge of brilliance. To the north the sky was marbled in blues — navy, midnight, cobalt — relieved by a single transparent brush of pure illumination. I waited at the red light, beneath this arc of many colors feeling that God Himself and Herself had plucked me from normal and put on a show to beat all shows. Just for me.
Then the light changed, I put my foot on the accelerator and crossed beneath the now invisible celestial arch. The magic carpet ride evaporated along with the traffic. Gone. But not. The memory of it all is still glowing within, astonishing me still. I only hope I have been able to share an iota of the beauty.