Along with the Autumnal Equinox, the arrival of Fall, comes the start of the final quarter of the calendar year and an opportunity to take a look back at the first nine months and maybe make a few little adjustments in how we wend our way through life.
While we may look at spring as a time of rebirth, of the blossoming of life, fall is a time to put things away, keep them safe for next year. In winter, we sleep, in spring we come to life, so in fall we prepare for that sleep, that rejuvenation.
In the foothills of the eastern Sierra Nevada stand great forests of aspen, covered with multitudes of leaves, all dancing as a gossamer ballerina. And if one has the time and inclination, one can sit on the moist ground, nay, lie on the moist ground, and feel the coolness of autumn begin. Sun’s rays not quite as intense, twilight coming just a bit sooner each day, and soon the leaves don spectacular colors, slowly, slowly, until entire hillsides seem to be burning in their glory. When one narrows one’s eyes, a furious kaleidoscope jitterbugs merrily about.
In other parts of this broad country of ours, hardwoods are making the same preparations, but in the Sierra Nevada, the performance is left for aspen trees. If one looks close, one will see the names of Basque sheepherders carved into white trunks, names of the men that came through various regions a century and more ago. Their names and those of sweethearts waiting in the flatlands below are testaments of, maybe to, love. In today’s less romantic times, it would be called graffiti.
Spring comes to the high country very late, and now, September, wild flowers, some just recently able to bloom in the cold sun, are preparing for their long nap; bears are filling themselves with the largest bowls of porridge they can find; birds have taught their fledges the theory of flight; and I‘m waiting for that first brilliant yellow or orange leaf. I will pick it up from its grand descent, savor its beauty, tuck it in my pack, and press its beauty on my return home. The color will last, I know, and I’ll spend many hours this winter inspecting treasures like this.
Gathering a basketful or two of aspen leaves before the snow falls will give my holiday table color and vibrancy, a warmth to welcome friends and relatives to my bounty. Fall brings berries if you can get them before the bears and other colorful pieces of vegetation, some that can be eaten, others that simply decorate in high art fashion. Don’t forget the pine cones for the fireplace.
That falling, trembling leaf will be my signal, a sign that the world is OK, that bombs have not fallen on me or mine, that I can make myself as ready for old Jack Frost as yon squirrel. No one has fallen through the hole in the ozone layer, none reported anyway; weapons of mass destruction have not rained on my parade; I can make my hearth ready; put three dogs on my bed; and create a pot of soup that will last the winter.
Two pots actually. One will be soup with all the leftovers that will fit under the lid, the other, beans simmering in a concoction of chilies, meats, tomatoes, onions, and garlic, added to as the need arises, both lasting until spring thaw.
There is a special joy to fall, autumn, at the lower elevations, that period following an equinox, but following labor’s special day here in the high country, a thin, broad, cold sky, can bring the joys of autumn overnight. One day, mid 80s, that night, below freezing. Next morning, brilliantly lit aspen leaves.
If wood for one’s warmth hasn’t been cut yet, it’s too late, chum. If berries haven’t been picked and fruit pulped into jam, it won’t happen now. Meat should be smoked or salted or frozen, for waiting past this point will not bring any more than you’ve harvested, bought, or acquired. And that hole in the roof or step that’s missing? The coming snow will remind you daily of those missed summer chores until thaw, six months yonder, at yet another equinox.
Fall is a time of wonder. I wonder if I’m ready. I wonder at the beauty. I wonder I’ve made this many. I wonder when that damn leaf will finally fall.
Gotta go now. As always, read good books and stay regular.