Part of my routine during the week is to take my dog, Mona, to the park for 20 or so minutes of squeaky ball time before I head off to work. In order to have time for this, Mona and I usually get to the park down the street from my house at about 6:30 am. And though it’s been getting steadily darker each day for the past few weeks, this morning, the park was still completely, middle-of-the-night dark. Fall has officially arrived.
Aside from the moaning and groaning I do in order to get out of bed on those cold, dark, and soon-to-be-wet mornings, I welcome the change of seasons with great gusto. (Mona, on the other hand, is less than pleased since the change of seasons and impending Daylight Saving time means that I now need to attach a little blinky light to Mona’s collar so that I can see her in the early morning darkness. Mona does not appreciate this blinky light, and in fact, on occasion, will attempt to bite the blinky light off her collar.)
Having grown up in the Midwest, the change of seasons represents a picturesque passage of time in my memories—the years flying by in a whirr of halcyon moments. Raking and then jumping into leaf piles in our front yard, making those little wax paper leaf pressings, and going apple picking with my family all seem almost ridiculously hokey to me now, but that was the stuff of my very happy childhood, and those thoughts linger with me now inside the perfect little memory bubbles that I treasure—hokeyness notwithstanding.
Now that the leaves have begun to turn and the nights are cooling down enough to only leave my window open an inch or two, I can’t help but think about my favorite place to be during the fall season: Northern Wisconsin. I really and truly love Seattle and hope to live here for the rest of my life if I can help it, but there’s nothing like being at camp during autumn. I enjoyed splitting my time between our home in Milwaukee and “Up North” at camp; shifting back and forth between suburban and rural living was always fun as a kid, especially in the fall and winter when camp was ours alone—quiet, still, and private.
The last time I was at camp during the fall, I spent some of the hardest days of my life out in the woods at camp, clearing and building sections of single-track mountain biking trails with my older brother. My father was sick—dying—during that fall. There was nothing that alleviated that pain for any of us. But at least Dylan and I could get outside and pass the time. It was perfect work for the autumn, with the weather never too hot or too cold. Dylan would drop me off and head to another section of trail, leaving me to work alone for a few hours.
I can still smell the dryness of the leaves beneath my boots even now, nine years later, as if I could close my eyes and be there just by willing it so. I can see the rich blue of the lake against the pale autumn sky as if they were in front of me. The poem below has done this for me, has preserved what I saw and felt those days on the trails, soaking up the quiet, stillness, and privacy of the season Up North.
By Autumn the aspens perform,
spinning their quivering green leaves
into gold, into shavings of sunset
exhibiting the season’s memorial.
I leaf-blow a narrow path as I move
shuffling through this decadent,
detritus-filled road, watching
in ear-plugged semi-silence as the dirt
reveals itself, clean and solid. Untouched
by rain or wind, under a blanket
of waving yellow leaves.
I am Moses: the leaf-blower my wand of faith,
the glowing dead leaves my sea.
Ghostly pale aspens and soft-peeling birches
lean against the wind in gradations of white.
Before me the lake is the kind of azure
only fall can offer, a blue so jewel-like,
you know it will end.
This lake is only a mile or so long,
and even less by width. It dries by the year,
overwhelmed with weed and muck.
A shrinking reminder of the glacial march
that pushed down on these lands. Still,
I feel it big as night behind me.
I walk the crest of a small hill,
and clear a balance beam-narrow ridge.
I navigate the brown among the yellow,
the white against the blue.