*Photo taken in Nelson, NH.
I’m posting a little later than I normally like, but going back to working with young children again is taking the strap out of my molasses. Also, I lost track of what day it is. Oops. The leaves are beginning to change. Fall promises to bring a welcome relief from sweaty, hot summer days with the light waning toward the equinox this week. Now that I drive from the woods to town for work every day, I get to watch the daily transition from green to bright yellow in the trees, with the occasional splash of red sumac or brush beneath the forest canopy. The hills around Keene provide a captivating backdrop for the color transfer, and I hope to find the energy for baking pies soon. This time of year holds all of my favorite aspects of living in the North, with pumpkins, mums, apples, winter squash, cider, and leaping into piles of raked leaves. My brother and I used to keep ourselves busy for hours when we raked leaves as kids. We loved heaping the leaves as high as we could, and then hopping into the pile over and over. Of course, we also often did other things like raking the leaves into mazes in the grass, wading through them like we would with snow, and eventually climbing atop the pile to lie in them when we finally got tired. Our yard in one of our childhood homes in the country was rather large, and we got used to having giant stacks of leaves in which to play. When we moved to Olean when I was in high school, the yard seemed like a postage stamp, and the leaves were nowhere near as plentiful. Raking then became a chore instead of fun, and neither of us enjoyed it much at that point.
Such is the way of life. We have times when life is a grind, and then other times when it can feel almost effortless and free. Over the summer, when Michael and I went to an amusement park with our families, it seemed so free and easy. Then we returned to the grind of working on our house and falling into bed every night completely spent. When we arrived in New Hampshire I had an idealistic hope that life here would somehow be easier, less grinding, but it’s still proving to be exhausting. Right now, though, I can look up at the view outside my window and see nothing but trees, hear nothing but sounds of the woods, and live by the light of what nature provides. It’s fascinating to me that when I come to the woods, my body acclimates to the sun and moon so readily. When the sun sets, I am tired within a couple of hours, and when it rises again, the light draws my eyelids open like shades on a window. A few nights ago, the moonlight cast its silvery-blue glow and provided the gentlest nightlight when I needed to use the bathroom during the night. And for several nights last week we had a few owls hooting in the woods, once in the trees right outside our door. I geek out on that kind of thing. Weirdly, I get excited when I get to hear or see wildlife so close, and I sort of think of animals and trees and plants as friends I look forward to seeing.
Back in Olean, I had certain walks I would take to restore myself, and one of those walks took me along the Allegany River. Ever since I first lived in Olean I loved walking there because it was fairly peaceful and quiet, and a track along the top of the dike allowed for a nice, easy walk. At one point along the river where the dike curves away from the river’s edge, a spit of forest grows along the riverbed—the place where there is now a paved trail which crosses over the dike and into the woods. In a triangular-shaped grassy bed at the forest’s edge stands a large, gnarled oak. Its girth is large enough that probably two adults could wrap their arms around it and not touch. As a teen I loved that tree, and every time I passed it I felt a warmth for its presence there. Sometimes I would sit under it and enjoy the shade. It was a nice spot to sit and think. For more than 30 years I have walked past that tree and been so happy to see it standing there in all its mossy, twisted majesty, and I hope to be able to return to see that tree still there for the rest of my days. That may not be possible, since the last few years have been hard on that old oak, and it’s showing signs of waning in its life. My fondness for that tree runs deep, and I worry for it like I might worry about a sick friend.
Going back even further in time, when my parents finally sold the home where my brother and I so enjoyed raking leaves, shortly after that the house was renovated into apartments, and then the yard was bulldozed, much to my horror. I will never forget the first time we drove past the house where I used to pick berries from a massive raspberry patch behind the barn, climbed a pine tree taller than our house, ate vegetables straight from our garden, and picked flowers from the many beds which bloomed over the seasons; it was devastating. That yard with all its many flora was a place of wonder for me as a kid, and I had grown attached to all the trees and plants which I could recognize: a dogwood which bloomed white and fragile over the courtyard next to the house, tiger lilies nestled into a stacked stone dividing wall in a section of the back yard, a jack-in-the-pulpit which popped up its head from a patch of ivy surrounding a lone birch tree, and our raggedy apple tree in the “very back yard” (as we called it) where my father attempted to build me a treehouse. Having all of that beauty lost made me terribly disappointed. All those lives I came to love as a child—gone. I was similarly upset when a tree in front of one of my homes in Savannah, GA was cut down. The tree once masked the balcony porch outside my room, and I loved the way the light filtered green into the windows. After that ugly incident, I felt like the subway might as well have been taped off like a murder scene. Is it strange that I feel such kinship to the plants and animals? I used to look forward to catching glimpses of a pair of mallards, a rabbit, a pair of finches, and a few red-winged blackbirds along one of my walks in Olean, too. They felt like little acquaintances I had made on my walks, like neighbors.
Right now, the sun is slipping toward the horizon, and its orange glow peeks through the leaves which are just starting to turn. The weather felt cooler today, and the woods is almost ready to take on the scent of falling leaves, that crisp, woody, mouldering aroma only fall delivers. Soon enough, we’ll catch the scent of winter in the air, too, but not yet. For now, we get to enjoy a slipstream of light jackets; bright, flame-like vistas rolling past our car windows; and the return of baking comfort food in the oven again. I may be exhausted from the grind of work and settling in a new state, but the woods cradle me to sleep every night in a magical whispering of birches and pines and oaks and maples all talking to each other in the wind. As soon as we get a clear night when the moon shines near full, I plan to take Michael and the dogs for a moonlit stroll under the trees. If you’ve never done so, I recommend it. When the moon is full or even a few days away from full, the light is bright enough to walk without a flashlight. Seeing the shadows of leaves on the road by moonlight is a treat. My lovelies, do yourself a favor and make a romantic evening of a walk by moonlight in the woods. To heck with the beach. Listen for the owls instead. Next week, I hope I have had time to explore the woods and share some fun from a trail. Be still my heart. Wouldn’t that be nice? Until then, my dears. Be wonderful, be loving, be true to who you are, and think kind thoughts to the trees for me.