Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thoughts on an October rain

For some reason the golden leaves pasted to the wet weathered boards of the patio brought back memories of the nymphal husks of stoneflies plastered to boulders pebbling the banks of trout streams in woods luminous with autumnal hues. Closing my eyes I entered that other world of blue-gold waters glittering in the sun but only for a second, brief and sharp as a gunshot, and reopening them felt a tug of loss for a place I might never see again.

The silence of the room was absolute other than a low moan of wind coursing through the barren boughs. With a little imagination it could have been taken for the rush of clear waters foaming over stones the size of small cars, its force shimmering the air, an ageless tune thrummed in ceaseless refrain. And muted now, softened by encroaching stands of wild raspberries and ferns, bobbing aspen leaves bright as newly-minted coins, and a volumetric reduction as cyclical as the burnished rusts of the high tundra and the first dusting of snow on the upper peaks. 

And here so far away the rain fell as it had fallen since dawn, a steady drizzle drumming on the downspout or occasionally lashing the north windows. In the shadowed corners a gathering darkness rose like a spectral tide. Twin worlds separated by twin panes of glass. 

Plus that other world, the lost world. What is it of autumn that makes us so melancholic, so full of longing? Yesterday when a flock of barn swallows flew across the road I wondered if they were the last I would see, and thought as I always do of skies bereft of birds and the long descent to the solstice and the icy wastes beyond. Watching the trees shed their foliage brought the same crushing sense of yearning. Autumn is how we learn to say goodbye.

I turned on the furnace and stood looking out on a world of subdued motion. Wet leaves tumbled on a north wind that sent rain cascading through the trees in sudden concentrated showers, each droplet radiant in the fading light. An early dusk and all the dusks to come earlier still. The sense of impermanence was staggering. 

But I would have it no other way, I knew. If not for the four disparate seasons I would be a different man entirely, some upbeat stranger scarcely tuned to an unremitting but strangely welcome sense of seasonal despondency. Imagine living in a temperate zone without spring or fall, as was the case in Costa Rica where the residents eagerly questioned us about snow. Theirs was a two-season climate, one wet, the other dry when trees relinquished their leaves not because of shortening days but because of drought. Days and nights were alike with depressing regularity. What the people we met really wanted to know about was winter, a foreign concept unthinkable except at the summits of the smoldering volcanoes running down the spine of their nation. They didn’t have a language for it.

My own language revolves around the radiant hues of a fading season and the promise of longer, and colder, nights. There’s some comfort in that—my bear nature and its latent desire for hibernation—and I think of hot chocolate mixed with butterscotch schnapps, of coffee and Irish cream, of fleece sweats and wool-lined slippers, electric blankets and the soft glow of lights warming the pages of a good book. The phrase “a cold October rain” conjures bittersweet imagery but also the promise of hearty soups and stews, and posole, the traditional New Mexican Christmas dish. Without the changing season none of those things would matter. 

And still the rain falls as it has since yesterday. I watch it for a while before closing the blinds and turning on a light. I’ll make a pot of coffee and simmer left-over green chile stew while darkness cocoons the house and the temperature noses downward. Autumn is also about turning inward. Let it rain.

1 comment:

shoreacres said...

This is exactly why I'm longing so for rain, for drizzle, for gray and cold. Summer - or at least early autumn - is holding on for all it's worth, and I have no idea what month it is. Thanksgiving next week? It feels as though it should be Labor Day.

I understand the melancholy and nostalgia of autumn - you're right about that. But I suspect for some of us - me, anyhow - part of the appeal is the lying fallow, being isolated less as a prisoner than as a snow-covered field. It's all necessary, in the end. Even the world needs a rest.