Friday, October 2, 2009


By the end of August it’s obvious here that fall is coming. You can see it in the way the long grass leans over the roots of the trees where the mower can’t go; you can see it in the lengthening of the light across the lawn and hear it in the sleepy throb of the crickets. At night the far-off moon - a bright disc against a spray of stone-hard stars - shines down on pumpkin vines and the pale orbs of squash in the garden.

At the end of August my garden goes gray. The magenta, red, orange, yellow and vermilion of the summer border quiets and softens. Under the drooping faded heads of phlox and shastas soft mounds of lamb’s ear gentle the path. Lavender, artichoke, artemesia and gypsophilia break in gray and white waves over the feet of coneflowers, butterfly bush and rudbekia.

In the field heads of New England asters foam around the dried tassels of goldenrod and crest along the road in billows of white. When we wake in the morning it is more often than not to fog and the gauzy weaving of hundreds of little white spiders, each of their webs a handkerchief filled with droplets as tiny as the head of a pin.

Then our world is gray and white - and so quiet that birds questing among the grasses at the end of the road hear me turn a page in my book and spill gently up from the brushy border to arrange themselves in a neat line on the telephone wire above.

Late August is the time of year when the lights go down on summer; soon enough the curtain rises on fall.

Suddenly a spill of bright red leaves appears along the dirt road by the water and before we know it swamp maples are burning up the edge of the meadow and lavender clouds, thick and heavy with unshed rain, build and billow behind them. In the late afternoon when the sun is low, a bar of light reaches the tops of the trees - a stripe of gold as bright as a searchlight.

Now, blue wood asters cluster along the road, their bright purple eyelashes fringing yellow centers. Winterberries and wild rosehips light up the boggy places where last spring I noticed the first skunk cabbage emerging; Tarzan vines of bittersweet enliven the peaty blackness of the firs. Most days, the sky is as blue as the inside of a mussel shell and the water below it a deep navy. In the garden a final blush of nasturtiums, sweetpeas, coral bells and late anemones glow against yellowed spears of iris and lily. When I take my walk in the evening poplar leaves, as papery as flaked gold, whisper ahead of me along the road and swirl behind me into the woods.

The birds, busy at the feeder, are bright and light as drifting leaves: red cardinals and their golden-buff orange-beaked mates; blue jays and bold black and white woodpeckers, goldfinches already in their winter olive drab, cedar waxwings, classy in khaki and black.

On a fair early October day it is impossible to stay indoors. I sit on the bench in the garden where the sun pours down, syrupy and warm, all afternoon. It is so quiet and so warm in the sun - a better-than-summer sun. And the garden is somehow a better-than-summer garden - no longer a kaleidoscopic tangle with every shard tumbling over every other. Now each flower, yellowing leaf, seedpod and stalk is eloquent and individuated.

What we experience now is an ever-changing ribbon of color that will fade from the hectic scarlet of maples to the elegant burgandy and dusty gold of oaks; a gradual gentling of the landscape that prepares us for the monochrome of winter. In another month or so our seaside world will pare down to undulations of snow, gray green firs and black branches against the sky as one year tips into the next.