Saturday, October 26, 2013

`Russet Descending to Earth-Color'

In his fine appreciation of juncos, my friend Levi Stahl writes: “The end of October has long been my least favorite time of year.” As I told him in a note, his sentiments are precisely the opposite of mine. Texas has no autumn, and October might as well be April, but the late-October I carry around is Northern, positioned specifically at 41 ° 28 ' 56″ N, 81°40′11″ W -- that is, Cleveland, about 350 miles due east of Levi’s Chicago, still my true north though I haven’t lived there in almost forty years. Maples supply much of the color, the reds and yellows, absent from a Houston fall. In his memoir of life at Eagle Pond Farm, his grandparents’ former home in Wilmot, N.H., Donald Hall writes (Eagle Pond, 2007): 

“Autumn is English Johnny’s, season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, gorgeous and monochrome. Or if autumn be French, let the long sobs of its violins pierce our hearts with languor and, indeed, monotony. Europe never reaches the cacophony of New Hampshire’s October with its purple cymbals and vermillion kettle drums, with driving red trumpets and Edgar Varèse carcrash codas of metallic jumble and roar.” 

He adds that in New Hampshire, “October’s detonation is flesh, opera, and expressionist cooking.” Hall is very good on the season: “By autumn’s end all colors leave—or almost leave. To November’s connoisseur the grades of beiges and grays, adjusting their textures, assemble colors as dear in their faintness as any orange whoops of September.” And this, which reminds me of the twenty autumns I spent in upstate New York, which is New England by another name: 

“Darkening shreds of old leaves hang on the oaks, russet descending to earth-color, red-squirrel fur; then the gray-squirrel treetrunk advances with its frost-silver, vertical scored with vertical lines, against which rise vertical birches swooped and tilting (Ice-storms do that) with horizontal Mondrian-lines to contradict the white pillar of the trunk. And everywhere the rich dark evergreen.” 

Nice touch, likening the color of trees to the color of the squirrels who evolved that coloration in order to live in those very trees. Levi, of course, includes squirrels: “My wife and I marvel at the exploits of squirrels, quietly watch opossums waddle down the alley, spot raccoons slipping quietly up trees in the lakefront park at night.” After cats, dogs and Homo sapiens, surely squirrels are the mammals Americans most often see. And not just Americans. I found this heartening: “One of my Chinese students told me, `I think Americans live very much in harmony with nature. There are so many trees and squirrels! When I first get here, I thought I was in a fairy tale movie.’” 

Of course, the true reason I favor the bottom of October, besides the colors, squirrels and general air of mellow fruitfulness, is that today is my birthday. When I was a boy, often the first snow of the season had already fallen by this day, almost certainly by Halloween, a dusting that mingled with the fallen leaves.


George said...

Happy Birthday! That is the sort of thing that will bias one toward October, as I know.

I lived in Parma from 1958 through 1969 and don't recall seeing October snows till we moved to Colorado. Of course, it has been a while.

Frank Wilson said...

Happy birthday, young man!

Roger Boylan said...

Happy birthday, Patrick. I'm a few days late, but you know.

Roger Boylan said...

That's two happy birthdays. Save up the second for next year. Better yet, let's celebrate it in Geneva.