From “On the Way to Other Country”
Autumn is the season I would miss. Rich in the moment, and rich in memory, there is nothing about it that does not stir me to the heart.
Autumn is expectation. A good many years ago the clarity of sharp October air conveyed across the night to the porch of the house where I lived a sound of marching bands — a thump of drums and after that a weighty whisper of many voices rising. Low over the roofs of the facing houses could be seen a white moonglow of lights. And I would go to where those lights were, with a friend or not, and press my face against the frosted wire fence that enclosed a field upon which larger boys played a violent game.
Out there was fame. A mystery then and a mystery still. But the pursuit of it was a wonderful thing to see. In time I grew. Not enough, but sufficiently to play the game. To play it even on that same field, with others watching through the fence. And already I envied them — the watchers — because I knew and could have told them, though I didn’t, that the doing never would be quite as fine as the expecting to.
Autumn also is the season of leave-takings, of adventures begun.
The other afternoon, crossing a little park, I walked through a slow rain of golden leaves. And immediately I was in a different park, a place of 30 years ago. A girl was there, in a swing, and we were making our goodbyes. I could tell you her name, although assuredly I will not.
We meant nothing, or practically nothing, to one another. We were younger than people of my age can be believed ever to have been. And I was going away to somewhere. Our grief was purely ceremonial. She didn’t mind a bit that I was going. And I was glad to be. But the situation imposed upon us certain dramatic obligations. We played our parts in promises and sighs. And after that we never met again, or ever particularly cared to. Probably she does not even remember. But if by chance she does, and should happen to read these lines, I must tell her that the picture of that day, that park, of her, is a part of the landscape of this season of my year. And will be always.
That is a less extravagant promise than some we made while the leaves fell around us on a golden afternoon. But at least it is a true one.
Still older, then… much older. I will not forget my father, on the last afternoon of his life, raking up a pile of blown leaves for my daughter, his granddaughters, to play in. That memory is not bittersweet at all. I watch him watching them. His hair is white and thin. He is an old man, as I will be. He is preoccupied — his blue eyes clouded by an intimation of were he is bound. The leaves scutter off the pile and across the clipped grass. The children cry out in delight. It is his moment of completion.
Blackbirds flocking. Wildfowl passing in the dark. Asters blooming against a tan bank at roadside. Farm fields stripped bare, awaiting some further plan. The empty sky, the long silence, the sharpness of late-day shadows, the smell of leaf smoke. I am devoted to all of that, and find no melancholy in it. Only a palpable fullness.
People who live their whole lives in anticipation of some future eternal spring mystify me utterly. Each to his own taste, of course. But if I had my way, I would prefer at the last to walk off, solitary and well-jacketed, across a land of always October.