The Pleasures of Late Autumn

Pound Lake, Wise County, Virginia in November. Photo copyright J. Dianne Dotson 2020.

I gaze out my office/studio window and I can see windows on another house, beyond the back fence. How is that possible? Where once a tumble of vines and an interwoven thicket of trees once hid secrets in their summer-green depths, now I feel I am being watched by the rectangular eyes of someone’s home. I wonder now if they look toward my house, and think the same.

Yellow leaves larger than my hands (which admittedly are quite small) carpet the back yard. Birds bounce among them, looking for treasures. I have seen many a squirrel flicker across that yard lately, nut at the ready (usually walnut or acorn), to dig fiercely in the greensward. They compete with the blue jays, who protest regularly about any intrusion into their yard. (As far as I’m concerned, the yard belongs to the animals.)

What, in this strangest and saddest of years in recent memory, what can we hold onto? We want order and sameness, but the world waits not for these things. To live on Earth is to live in constant change, the one certainty we have. I look no further than the gnarled treetops, revealed now in late autumn. I see splashes of late color in the canopies, where tall oaks, hitherto predisposed to bowing out of the autumnal color riot, now throw their long hands skyward, as if to say: “My joy is the joy of the waning of the year. Keep your early celebrations. I have given to the Earth with my fruits, and now I wave to you ere winter’s return.”

Shadows grow longer, birds grow fatter. I find myself unwilling to go sockless in the mornings, as I watch the world change outside my window. When I walk, my boots crunch on dried leaves and acorns. I am reminded that I live again in a place in which I will need gloves sooner rather than later.

In late autumn I am drawn to reflection: to still water ringed by burnished trees, but also to my own soul’s journey through the year. Grief and change and finding my compass turning to Southern Appalachia again after twenty years…it’s something I could not have foreseen even a year ago. Yet here I am.

As I bake pumpkin bread and make soups and rolls, and tuck piecrusts into dishes filled with warm spices and firm fruits, I think that now really is the treasured time of the year. The harvest is here. We give thanks for having made it this far. And as winter approaches and the skies soften and the leaves melt away into memory and enrich the soil, I am reminded that change is inevitable, and in the case of late autumn, it is good.