Colors of Autumn
Mid to late autumn is perhaps the most beautiful time of the year. It is one last hurrah of color, warm days, and outdoor activities before the dreary, cold of winter sets in, often confining us indoors. In mid-October, around 6:30 am, the eastern horizon begins to glow pink. The sky above the small band of pink is a deep purple, almost indigo as the sun starts to climb above the horizon. The sunrise paints a bigger swath of pink across the sky between 6:50 and 7:00 am. – On rainy mornings, it’s like the sun doesn’t rise, there is not much light until after 7:00 am and then the sky is a bluish gray. – Around 7:15 am there is still a soft morning gold in the trees. Some mornings, shiny white frost blankets the grass, sparkling in the morning sunlight. It clings to dried leaves, outlining their veins and edges with tiny, glittering crystals. Late morning, the sun filters through the maple trees, making them glow, as if their gold leaves were a blaze of flames. The angle of the sun around 10:00 am, and again in the afternoon, as early as 2:00 pm, gives the trees and landscape a romantic glow, a certain softness that is enchanting.
Clouds filling the sky make the days nearly dark as night, dramatically cooling the feel of the air temperature. In contrast, a sunny, nearly calm day, heats the earth to a splendidly warm and most comfortable temperature. Gentle rains fall to the earth in cold drops. These rain drops fall on the roof with a pitter patter rhythm, steady, never missing a beat. Even the slightest of breeze cools a day by a few degrees from the actual temperature. Where the gentlest caress of a summer breeze is most desirable and wished for on every hot July day, in mid-October it is unwelcome.
Tree-covered bluffs, a rainbow of tones. Brilliant gold and yellows, pink to russet and red, purple to maroon, fiery orange, brown, patches of green brush the hillsides. A strong breeze rocks the trees, sending gobs of leaves swirling into the air, falling like rain. Pulled by gravity, the twirling leaves drift to the ground where they form piles beneath the trees. A multicolored carpet covering the ground, providing both insulation and nutrients as leaves slowly decay in the onslaught of autumn rains, winter snow, the freeze-thaw cycle of mid-winter, and spring thaw. All too quickly, many trees become nearly barren of leaves, as wind continues to beat them, stripping them of their fall foliage, until they stand tattered; their clothes now rags like Cinderella’s dress after her step sisters’ snatching attack. Early autumn, walnuts fall from the trees with a loud, eerie thud. A month later, autumn days are still not quiet, as falling leaves sometimes rustle and clatter on their decent to the ground. Usually each gust of wind would rattle the seed pods on the honey locus tree like wind chimes, but not this year, the lack of sound is uncanny and deafening. There were only a few seed pods on the tree and they fell off early, in late August.
Earthen smells of decaying leaves and dirt flood the nostrils with enchantment. Leaves crunch underfoot while one stomps through piles of them, a light hearted fun. A childhood joy was to rake these leaves into large piles by the swing set to jump in. Stuffing dried leaves into large, black trash bags to stack around the house for extra insulation and then to be used as compost in the spring, was not a favorite task since we wanted to dive in into the pile and roll around in the leaves, which then clung to jackets, hats, mittens and hair creating a new style of dress. This was followed by sipping steaming hot chocolate or hot apple cider after a romp in the leaves, holding the cup in both hands to warm them.
Squirrels scurry about stuffing as much food into their mouths as possible, shoving in seeds with their tiny, hand-like paws. Quenching thirst after a shovel of seeds, a squirrel stands in a bird bath lapping up the water. Large black crows, seen often in groups, perch on the nearly naked trees, calling out in their loud, ominous caw, the end of summer, the fast approaching end of autumn and the oncoming winter. Their cry seems lonely, empty and forsaken. The black, presence of lurking crows seems almost spooky at the end of October and the month of November. Goldfinches, after fall molting, are dull in color, lacking their brilliant yellow feathers, even their black feathers are muted in color. Nuthatches, chickadees and cardinals become the most noticeable of birds. The cardinal in the yard begins whistling a happy tune. Deer seem more careful with hunters waiting for them. Turkeys that were fairly elusive all summer are back in the field where they danced in the spring. The fur of cows, dogs and cats has already started to thicken.
The sunsets this time of year are as fantastic as ever. Around 6:00 pm, the sun visibly sinks on the horizon. Within minutes it is out of sight entirely, a gold, pink sunset fills the western sky for a while longer. Temperatures drop fast when the sun begins to sink. Dusk seems to fall rapidly, fading into darkness around 7:00 pm. As the days rapidly shorten, we gather around a modest bonfire with family and friends a couple times before winter blows in to end the party. Children and adults together revel in the bright, starry sky that seems suddenly more crisp and clear.
Two weeks ago, a full moon rose, huge on the northeastern horizon around 9:00. The full moon was a glowing orb, filling the night sky making it nearly as bright as day. At first it appears red, then fades to orange, yellow, and then white as it rises higher in the sky. Now the moon rises a little before the sun. On October 23, the moon eclipsed the sun. For an hour, we tried the best techniques to observe the amazing phenomena. Words can’t describe the stunning beauty, the interest and excitement that went along with seeing it and sharing it with a family. The girls squealed and jumped up and down with delight as they saw crescents on the side of the barn. Chasing the sun, moving to see it just a little longer as it was sinking; at that point we were able to look at it with sunglasses. We watched the sun sink before our eyes, disappearing from sight. Soon the glowing pink and gold sky faded to a very dark blue to black as the sun finished setting.
These are the delights of autumn that disappear so quickly. Autumn is fleeting, here one week, gone the next before you can fully enjoy the colors. As the poet, Robert Frost said, “Nothing gold can stay.” So, too, colors of trees give in to the barrenness of winter and the angle of the sun shifts again taking away that romantic lighting that takes place during most autumn days.
– October 24, 2014 Journal entry