While it lasts …

Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree.” — Emily Bronte

I’m not very good at weather predictions, but it’s safe to say that Michigan residents will experience a drop in temperatures in a few short weeks. We’ll be pulling out our weather-proof boots and shuffling (and sliding) through … snow.

Folks who enjoy winter sports might welcome the change; they’ll wax poetic about the elegance of fresh powder on the ski slopes and snow clinging to bare branches. But I’m a three-season gal who likes it warm and colorful: Give me spring, summer, or fall.

The photos in this post were taken on our property in Royal Oak on November 6th. While many of our trees have lost their leaves, some are still ablaze with color, and I can’t remember a year when autumn managed to hang on this long.

There’s always something bittersweet in the change of any season, but fall is especially poignant. Whether you’ve just sent your youngest child off to kindergarten or to college, you sense the inevitable march of time. You feel the urge to get things done while you can. But it’s also wise to remember, as Anna Quindlen pointed out, that “Life is not so much about beginnings and endings as it is about going on and on and on. It is about muddling through the middle.”

Yesterday, I stood in awe in the middle of our front lawn, trying to photograph the cobalt blue sky and the late afternoon sun filtering through the maple leaves. It looked as though the whole afternoon had been tinted with a paintbrush dipped in gold. I want to remember how it all looked — when I’m staring out my home office window on a January morning, and the same trees are bare and covered with snow.  — CL


Feeling the fall

There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October.” –Nathaniel Hawthorne 

Maybe it’s a symptom of middle age, or maybe it’s just my old Celtic soul stirring up a seasonal memory.

Either way, late October always tugs on my sleeve and insists that I slow down to take stock of the passing year. Despite the “worries of the week” — or whatever I’ve chosen to focus on — Mother Nature reminds me that life is all about cycles. Some seasons flow more easily than others, but I have many reasons to be grateful for every one I’m given.

Last week, when I looked down over the ravine that dips toward the river behind our home in St. Joseph, I remembered an excerpt from this poem by Billy Collins:


The best time is late afternoon
when the sun strobes through
the columns of trees as you are hiking up,
and when you find an agreeable rock
to sit on, you will be able to see
the light pouring down into the woods
and breaking into the shapes and tones
of things, and you will hear nothing
but a sprig of birdsong or the leafy
falling of a cone or nut through the trees,
and if this is your day you might even
spot a hare or feel the wing-beats of geese
driving overhead toward some destination.

But it is hard to speak of these things —
how the voices of light enter the body
and begin to recite their stories;
how the earth holds us painfully against
its breast made of humus and brambles;
how we who will soon be gone regard
the entities that continue to return
greener than ever, spring water flowing
through a meadow and the shadows of clouds
passing over the hills and the ground
where we stand in the tremble of thought
taking the vast outside into ourselves.

—Billy Collins, excerpted from The Art of Drowning

Unexpected sparks

Our brightest blazes of happiness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.” — Samuel Johnson

It was one of those luminous Indian summer afternoons — clear cobalt skies and pure yellow light shimmering through the maples on our front lawn. This was autumns last hurrah, and even the neighborhood kids sensed the day was ripe for celebrating.

We woke early that morning to find a crisp runner of mustard-gold leaves carpeting the sidewalks. If you squinted hard enough and used your imagination, you’d swear it led straight to Oz.

Id taken the day off work and suggested we drive to the old cider mill in Franklin Village, where its always worth standing in line for the best cinnamon doughnuts made in Michigan. But Nate, who was six at the time, had his own ideas. He and Catie, the girl next door, would set up their own cider-and-doughnuts stand in our front yard, which faces a well-traveled boulevard.

Naturally, I ended up at the local fruit market, loading a shopping cart with doughnuts and several gallons of apple cider.

Back home, I retrieved a card table and some cardboard for a poster, then rallied the kids to assemble the doughnuts and paper cups on a serving tray. The three of us positioned the cider stand at the corner of our front yard.

The small entrepreneurs perched on lawn chairs and waited patiently for customers. They waved at passing cars and periodically rearranged the paper cups. Business was painfully slow. Watching the eager pair from the front porch, I felt my heart skip each time a car sped past them.  Surely some generous adult would step on the brakes, reach deep into a pocket, and pull out a dime for a cool cup of cider.  But most drivers didn’t seem to notice.

I’ve been guilty of similar oversights. Rushing to the office, the bank, or an appointment, I’ve driven past countless children trying to earn spare change at their sidewalk stands. Sometimes I rolled down the window and promised to catch them on my way back, at my convenience, which was usually too late.

Slowly but surely, my faith in humanity was restored as a few neighbors came around to patronize the cider stand.  Quarters, dimes, and nickels clinked musically in the collection cup, while Nate and Catie whirled around the card table.

And I’ll never forget how stunned the pair looked when a stranger pulled up in a red convertible with the top down, radio blaring. Leaping from the car, the man sprinted up to the table, grabbed one of the cups, and downed his cider in one memorable gulp. He smiled as he stuffed a bill into the collection cup, and didn’t wait for his change. As the stranger roared down the boulevard, the children flew to me on the front porch, chirping like startled sparrows all the way up the steps.

“Guess what!  That guy in the car gave us ten dollars for the cider and he didn’t want any change!!  TEN DOLLARS!!”

Breathless and giddy, the two began negotiating how the miraculous windfall would be divided. One of them remarked that the cider must have been very good, having earned such an awesome profit.

Despite everything thats wrong in the world, its hard to remain cynical on a grace-filled day like that. I remembered a phrase I’d read by the poet John Keats, and I knew that this was what he meant by “Moments big as years.”   –Cindy La Ferle

— Copyright 2005; Hearth Stone Books; excerpted from Writing Home —