One house we lived in had a window in the upstairs bathroom with a view of trees and fields. Each year in August I would look out this window in anticipation of the bright red patch that always appeared in an otherwise green expanse of a maple tree. It seemed that much brighter for being surrounded by the remaining green leaves. Later the rest of the tree would turn red, yet there was something very special for me about that first splash of color.
Perhaps that is because it heralded my favorite time of year. I cherish the first tinges of red and yellow beginning to blossom in the trees by the roadside. It is truly said that the strong colors of fall echo the pastel shades of spring except that they are strong and vivid. I have also noticed that in the weeks before the autumn colors emerge, the green of tree leaves takes on a grayish look that hints at the ageing of the leaves, preparing them for their ultimate brilliance. The other colors are present in the leaves all along. When the cooler weather comes, the green disappears and the red and yellow take over.
Fall colors are lovely and bright. Pumpkins, squash, chrysanthemums, apples, and fiery leaves are all part of its panorama. Highway vistas of hills plumped up with pillows of brilliant hue are a delight to drivers and passengers alike. As spring is a time of tentative melodies and pastel colors so fall is loud and strident, its colors are bold, its thunders vibrate around us. Farmstands open up and share their bounty with passers by. In more rural areas little collections of garden produce appear by the side of the road with prices and trustful boxes for payment.
When I was a child I delighted in scuffing through the rustling leaves. I loved the sounds and the tastes of fall. The sweet concord grapes that grew on the fence around my great aunt Alice’s garden tasted so wonderful. I was equally happy to breathe the slightly sharp air of fall that held a tinge of the frosts to come. I didn’t care much for raking the leaves, however I got paid to do it and that helped. I never tended my parents’ gardens, nor was I asked to. Later when I had a garden of my own, as fall emerged I hurried to pick the last tomatoes as well as the remaining marigolds. However I paid someone to rake the leaves.
Busy squirrels scurry around storing up food for the winter. Some alas are harvested by swiftly traveling automobiles. These provide a feast for the crows, so nothing is wasted. Autumn is a time for all of us to store food. My mother busily canned and later froze her garden produce. When I had a large freezer I did too. I loved the feeling of providing for my family. Now I can’t store much food for the future, however I can take advantage of the seasonal plenty. I got out my old Fanny Farmer’s cookbook and looked up apple recipes. We had Apple Brown Betty for supper. Yummy! Fall is my favorite time of year and I rejoice in its bounty as well as its beauty.
As a child I looked forward to fall. I enjoyed the swish of the leaves as I shuffled through them and the crisp air redolent of the smell of burning from people’s yard clean ups. Each year I collected colorful leaves and treasured them until they dried up and crumbled. When my children were small we collected our favorites and ironed them between sheets of waxed paper. We’d tape them on the glass storm door or onto windowpanes. The wonderful variety of colors and the way the each leaf is uniquely designed by nature has always fascinated me.
Recently, driving down the highway I gazed with pleasure at the vista of the changing leaves. In some places they had already turned, and the autumn colors had emerged in a blanket of bright hues. However, in a few places summer’s green still predominated. Then I noticed an outstanding patch of red in the midst of a section of green leaves. It stood out so strongly that my eyes were drawn to it and lingered until I had driven past it. That particular section of leaves seemed so vivid compared with the usual display of roadside color.
The patch of brilliantly red leaves I had just passed wasn’t especially large, yet it overpowered my attention in a way that the conglomeration of greater color had not. As I drove I thought about the difference between it and the other colorful leaves that lined the roadside. I realized it was the contrast that made it so strong. I was reminded of how Shakespeare spoke of the light of a candle in the darkness saying: “So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” There is something about contrast that enhances the presence of what is outstandingly lovely to experience. The same is true of scarcity or of specialness; these enhance the way something is experienced.
I realized that my attention had been drawn to the brightness of the red against the darkness of the green. A hillside of lovely fall leaves is a beautiful sight to behold, yet without contrast my eyes soon grow used to it; I don’t see the view with as much interest or delight. The same thing applies to taste. If all the food on my plate is bland, it all begins to taste the same. If it is either entirely crunchy or entirely smooth I don’t enjoy it as much. With what I hear, the same applies: What makes Beethoven’s music so special to me is the interplay of loud and soft, thunderous and sweet.
This is also true with regard to life in general. I enjoy it when things go smoothly, when everything falls into place, when people show up when they’re supposed to. I am grateful for the excitement of winning, the feelings of accomplishment when I am praised. Yet without at least temporary failure, without glitches, without the serendipity of strange twists and turns, life would not be nearly as interesting or as vital. While I may lament a loss or mourn a missed opportunity, because of that contrast I am even more grateful for my gains and my successes.
There is something about New England that is very special to me, and a large part of it has to do with the fall here. I grew up in a town (now) called Manchester by the Sea. Every year I anticipated the joy of the fall leaves and the crisp air that made me feel so good. A brief seven year stay in Virginia only confirmed my love of New England. I thought the weather there was much too bland. Happy to return, I have found this area to be a special place to live.
These days as I drive along Grafton’s scenic roads my eyes are drawn to the brilliant changes in the foliage. The green of summer has faded and grayed the leaves. Now the cool nights and days transform the landscape as the dusty pallor of early fall gives way to fresh reds and yellows. I can’t help ooing and ahing while I work to keep my focus on the road. I am grateful for the speed limit. It is easy to maintain it because I simply cannot drive faster and also gaze at the enthralling color.
I have loved the autumn ever since I was a young child. The smell of burning leaves–no longer common in these days of pollution control, as well as the sharp, damp smell of the brown, fallen leaves after a rain have always warmed my heart. I even enjoyed going back to school because it meant a change from being bored at home. Fall meant new things to learn and new books to read.
There are many reasons fall is my favorite season. I am grateful for the bountiful harvest of fruits and vegetables that it provides. I also enjoy the crisp air, the opportunity to wear a cozy sweater and scarf. Most of all, I love it for its rich palette of color. In some mysterious fashion each fall seems the most beautiful. It seems to me that every year the previous autumn pales in comparison to the one I am entranced by now. In addition as the days grow cooler, my mind grows sharper.
This increase in mental acuity helps me to be more mindful. Being mindful is vitally important, especially at this season, because it helps keep me focused. It is all too easy to be distracted when I am driving along past the colorful autumn vistas as they unfold before me. My attention could be caught and held–dangerous when I am driving a car.
The years Stephen and I have spent meditating have had many benefits, but most especially I value the beneficial impact meditation has had on our minds. Meditation as we practice it is a way of doing exercises for the mind. The time we spend working to stay focused is like lifting weights or doing sit ups, only for mental rather than physical strength. As I drive through the autumnal glory I am grateful not only for the beauty that fills my eyes, but also for the ability I have to keep my eyes on the road.