Member Rara Avis
|The first frost came early this year, Mom. |
The Edge of Autumn, you used to call it.
Only the most grievously impatient
leaves have begun their shift from green to gold
and Nature's browns are still limited to
shades of desiccated corn stalk,
remnants of a harvest only weeks old.
A few Canadian geese have begun noisily
announcing their winter plans,
much as the silence of the bullfrogs
already announces theirs.
It doesn't seem possible
your Edge of Autumn is already here again.
Only last week a storm swept through,
all wind and rain and Summer's rage,
and I had to rush to close the south windows
from tempest-driven cascades
that seemed to be falling sideways,
from whipping tips of trees instead of darkened sky.
Thirty minutes and it was over.
The sun returned before the mist departed,
painting an arch of muted color
low on the northern horizon.
The yard became thick with martins,
like flitting black snow,
digging for grubs and worms driven to the surface.
They all flew away like an explosion of feathered fear,
perhaps because I looked too hard,
only to alight a heartbeat later in the neighbor's yard.
And this morning,
all the yards along the whole dirt road
are covered in wet shades of white.
It doesn't seem possible.
|Five years ago,|
I returned home in the heat of Summer,
one day too late for Independence Day.
I didn't regret missing the fireworks, of course,
not considering the circumstance.
I remember it rained the afternoon
I pulled into your gravel driveway,
a summer squall not unlike last week's,
and I danced with the arborvitae in your front yard,
a little drunk with forgotten memories of youth.
California has no such storms,
and twenty years is a long time
to not hear thunder.
Dad died six weeks later.
The Edge of Autumn was short that year.
We went from first frost
to heavy snow by mid-October,
wearing dirty white caps
and the lake sheathed in polished ice.
By the time I found a rental it was November
and we were in the grip of a merciless winter.
I decided, not for the last time,
that two decades without snow
wasn't nearly long enough.
Christmas was at your house.
No one in the family knew
it would be the last year those floors
would glitter with spent tinsel.
I bought my nephew cheap plastic swords
and we spent the afternoon battling each other
at the expense of your fragile nerves.
It shames me that I didn't know you better,
and had no way to judge
how quickly you tired.
If there was an end to that winter,
I honestly don't remember it.
The mud of spring rain is forever
shrouded in the memory of
and the incessant bugs of summer
are forgotten and replaced
by pain killers that only worked
at the cost of consciousness.
The anniversary of Dad's death passed.
Eleven days later, so did you.
There was no Edge of Autumn that year.
Not for me.
The first frost of the year went unnoticed
and September became,
perhaps for the rest of my life,
a month of introspective mourning.
October was only slightly different,
as lackluster shades of yellow and red
gave way to the stark emptiness of November.
December was white,
January much whiter,
leading to a dirty gray February.
Color and purpose
were equally hard to find.
Ironically, as spring awoke
and donned fresh clothes,
I found new purpose
by encouraging others to do
what I could no longer comfortably do.
My novel, the one you so wanted to read, languished
while I spent my days reading the words of others.
There is a central character in my unfinished story,
a young boy, Mom,
who has been bitten by a vampire bat,
and the only way his friends can spare him
is to painfully cleanse
the spreading rot with holy water.
I could save him, as I could not save you.
Strange that I haven't.
Do you remember the young couple
who lived across the road from you, Mom?
Three years ago I bought their property
and now live just eighty-seven irregular steps
from where I last held your hand.
This spring I planted a long row of your favorite flowers
in the front yard,
though it'll be several years
before the seedlings give birth to May lilacs.
I put in trees for Dad, too,
though not his favorites,
because black walnut and oak grow much too slowly.
I planted weeping willows, instead.
It doesn't seem possible four years have passed,
and these are the first words I've dared write of your death.
You always loved this time of year
and looked forward to pumpkins, candy corn,
and the inevitable cacophony of color
you knew would soon unfold.
Did I ever tell you, Mom,
how much I envied you that?
The early frost marked the Edge of Autumn for you.
For me, it was just the first kiss of winter.
When they buried your ashes
next to Dad's,
they should have interred
my final ties to this place I once,
as a child, called home.
Instead, I've stayed,
and am only now beginning
to understand why.
I will never love this land
the way you and Dad did,
but I am, at least,
learning to appreciate its wisdoms.
For twenty years, Nature spoke to me with the voice
of eternal mountains and unending ocean,
a beautifully droning monotone heard in the distance.
Today, her voice is closer, louder,
and speaks more clearly of well-charted change,
of cycles within cycles,
each reflecting the lesser,
each a part of the greater.
You showed me your Edge of Autumn, Mom,
and your death has slowly taught me
to look for it outside
the narrow rectangle of my kitchen window.
Beyond the Edge
lies beauty, then peace, and finally a rebirth.
I see this morning's early frost
and begin to suspect
the Edge of Autumn
exists for Nature, for Life, for Purpose.
And even, perhaps, for grief.