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Fall is Coming

August 16, 2011


Anyone else reading the Song of Fire and Ice books? I just finished Game of Thrones and realized that Mr. B and I sound like modified Starks: fall is coming.

I don’t know if years of starting school in September did it, or if we are all just more sensitive to daylight and temperature than we think, but I’ve noticed that most people have a very finely tuned fall-dar (sorry, I had to). It is almost indefinable, but I can feel the change coming. The sun, even on the hottest days, feels sort of spent. The heat just doesn’t have that incredibly harsh quality anymore. The shade, even on the hottest days, has an underlying chill to it. The smell of dead grass and powdery dry dirt is everywhere. I looked out the window today and saw my first fall leaves – a single branch of leaves on one of our cottonwoods turned yellow while I wasn’t looking.

Early fall is one of the best times in Missoula. We get both fall and traditional “summer” foods together, the weather is beautiful, growing things have a final burst of green-up from fall rains. This year though, I’ve been dreading fall even while I’m looking forward to it. A few weeks ago there was a moment when I realized that fall was coming, and I stood up and gasped. There is so much to do to the house still. We had originally planned to plaster the exterior of the house this year, but the plaster needs to be kept consistently above 40 degrees. In Missoula, temperatures start dipping below 40 in mid-September. We’ve decided to ditch the plaster and wrap the house in house wrap, but even without that step the list of requirements is long. I imagine this is a minor version of the way pioneers felt about fall – excitement for the harvest, fear for the coming winter.

I’ll leave you with a passage from Willa Cather’s My Antonia:

North of the house, inside the ploughed fire-breaks, grew a thick-set strip of box-elder trees, low and bushy, their leaves already turning yellow. This hedge was nearly a quarter of a mile long, but I had to look very hard to see it at all. The little trees were insignificant against the grass. It seemed as if the grass were about to run over them, and over the plum-patch behind the sod chicken-house.

As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour of winestains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running…

I can remember exactly how the country looked to me as I walked beside my grandmother along the faint wagon-tracks on that early September morning. Perhaps the glide of long railway travel was still with me, for more than anything else I felt motion in the landscape; in the fresh, easy-blowing morning wind, and in the earth itself, as if the shaggy grass were a sort of loose hide, and underneath it herds of wild buffalo were galloping, galloping …

Alone, I should never have found the garden–except, perhaps, for the big yellow pumpkins that lay about unprotected by their withering vines–and I felt very little interest in it when I got there. I wanted to walk straight on through the red grass and over the edge of the world, which could not be very far away. The light air about me told me that the world ended here: only the ground and sun and sky were left, and if one went a little farther there would be only sun and sky, and one would float off into them, like the tawny hawks which sailed over our heads making slow shadows on the grass. While grandmother took the pitchfork we found standing in one of the rows and dug potatoes, while I picked them up out of the soft brown earth and put them into the bag, I kept looking up at the hawks that were doing what I might so easily do.

When grandmother was ready to go, I said I would like to stay up there in the garden awhile.

She peered down at me from under her sunbonnet. `Aren’t you afraid of snakes?’

`A little,’ I admitted, `but I’d like to stay, anyhow.’

I sat down in the middle of the garden, where snakes could scarcely approach unseen, and leaned my back against a warm yellow pumpkin. There were some ground-cherry bushes growing along the furrows, full of fruit. I turned back the papery triangular sheaths that protected the berries and ate a few. All about me giant grasshoppers, twice as big as any I had ever seen, were doing acrobatic feats among the dried vines. The gophers scurried up and down the ploughed ground. There in the sheltered draw-bottom the wind did not blow very hard, but I could hear it singing its humming tune up on the level, and I could see the tall grasses wave. The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers. Queer little red bugs came out and moved in slow squadrons around me. Their backs were polished vermilion, with black spots. I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.

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