Sunday, October 11, 2009

One True Color Liberally Applied

I saw autumn once. Real autumn. Cloudless sky the color of delphiniums. Trees that moved in the breeze like flamenco dancers, skirts flounced in leaves the red of the ripest plums, the gold of a long-worn wedding band, the orange of new rust. Creek water already so cold it raised the hair on my arms as I dragged my fingers through its ripples.

It was in New England, the first week in October, and I wore turtlenecks and a jacket that was supposed to look like an old Indian blanket. I picked up leaves and pressed them between the pages of the notebook I carried.

I found myself thinking in cliches – describing the air as "brisk," as though it had legs and could move them quickly – and taking far too many photographs of the same colorful trees over and over. I decided I liked apple cider.

And when I got home, walked off the plane taking off my jacket so I could breathe, I was feeling a little – yes, I admit it – a little ashamed of this place where most of the trees stay green and nobody taps maple trees for sugar and my turtlenecks wouldn’t be needed for at least another couple of months.

Pure silliness.

Autumn, of course, comes to south Georgia as surely as it comes to New England; it just looks different. Instead of flushing the landscape with the entire spectrum, it carries a single paintbrush laden with one color, the bright yellow of French’s mustard -- goldenrod at every crossroad, at the base of every light pole, on the line of every fence row. Happy-faced asters and soft-edge primroses, foxglove and buttercups. They do not dance; they just sway to the music of the still-warm breeze through the pine trees like the homely girl in the corner at the Homecoming dance.

And it doesn’t make a whole lot of fuss either. It casually saunters in while everybody’s attention is on getting the corn out of the fields and planning for the first tailgate. One morning you walk outside, feel a little shiver in your shoulders and suddenly have a craving for turnips.
Then it’s time for the fair and cane syrup and while you’re there somebody invites you to a peanut boiling and, before you know it, the newspaper is running that unscramble-the-names-and-win-a-turkey promotion and it’s Thanksgiving.

No, it’s not the autumn of elementary school bulletin boards or Charles Kuralt’s video essays, but it is autumn nonetheless. Our autumn.

Last week, when the moon was nearly full, I lit some citronella candles out on the deck (something no New Englander would ever have to do in October) and stood in the dark staring up at the big white circle. The fields on either side of Sandhill had given up their corn and the empty stalks had been felled by a rotary cutter in preparation for dove season. The frog chorus that had been a loud accompaniment to any kind of outdoor activity all summer was faint and arrhythmic. I realized it had been several days since I’d filled the hummingbird feeders.
The season had, once again without fanfare, stolen in and settled herself.

There is a lot to be said for the absence of fanfare, for subtlety and grace, for one true color liberally applied.
Copyright 2009

1 comment:

Lynn Nash said...

This is poetry - not a column - just pure prize winning poetry