The red

LIKE mighty footlights burned the red
At bases of the trees,—
The far theatricals of day
Exhibiting to these.

’T was universe that did applaud
While, Chiefest of the crowd,
Enabled by his royal dress,
Myself distinguished God.

~Emily Dickinson
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Ah, that autumn light. It’s different this time of year. Sunsets are sharper somehow, the clear blue line of the Alleghenies hard and crisp against the watercolor sky. The light is different all day. As I write this, it’s still pitch place outside. A month or so ago, the sun would have risen by now. Now, we wait in darkness for the sunrise, rise and begin the day without light.

The afternoon sun is different, too. It feels more golden, more precious, the light pouring down as if to make up for the fact that it will be leaving us sooner.

And then, the sunsets. They creep up on us. It seems that much color in the sky should make a sound, but you can miss it completely in its silence if you’re not paying attention. The red of the sunset is like footlights summoning us to a show that is the lights themselves. It’s noiseless and over quickly.

These days, the light hoards itself. We begin to light candles, fires, make our own tiny suns in the cold dark.

Into the beautiful

AS imperceptibly as grief
The summer lapsed away,—
Too imperceptible, at last,
To seem like perfidy.

A quietness distilled,
As twilight long begun,
Or Nature, spending with herself
Sequestered afternoon.

The dusk drew earlier in,
The morning foreign shone,—
A courteous, yet harrowing grace,
As guest who would be gone.

And thus, without a wing,
Or service of a keel,
Our summer made her light escape Into the beautiful.

~Emily Dickinson

Imperceptible indeed. This summer has hung on longer than the last, it seems. The days are still, for the most part, hot and sunny. The weather has been dry, the few clouds stingy with their rain.

Yet the shift is happening. This morning, the predawn world is cloaked in an autumnal mist, though the temperature is already in the seventies. Only crickets sing outside my window. The drooping boughs of the evergreens are black against the paling sky.

Summer’s escape this year is light, so light that it seems not to have left. It trails heat after it, though the light of June, July, August is already fading. Where does summer go? Into the beautiful? What and where is that? Some fey country, no doubt, where leaves never fall and flowers do not fade.

After the oppressive heat of summer, though, I will happily take this mortal beautiful–the beauty of blazing leaves, then bared branches, then a landscape cloaked quietly in snow. Snow seems like magic these early autumn days, as impossible as summer seemed half a year ago.

meek mornings

The morns are meeker than they were – 
The nuts are getting brown –
The berry’s cheek is plumper –
The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf –
The field a scarlet gown –
Lest I sh’d be old-fashioned 
I’ll put a trinket on. 

~Emily Dickinson

5:59 a.m. The sun has not yet risen, has not sent even a whisper of pink over the horizon. A month ago the skies would have been a riot of predawn color, the birds jubilant. Meeker now, indeed.

These are strange and precious days–the adolescent days of autumn, as awkward and unpredictable as a child growing into her skin. Like an almost-teen, these autumn/summer days sometimes hang on to the past like grim death, refusing to acknowledge that change is inevitable. Other times, they bolt forward, early out of the gate, overeager for whatever is next.

Here, autumn is having a Lost Boys moment, reluctant to grow up. The days have been swelteringly hot, not unusual for September but always disconcerting. It’s supposed to have been autumn for eight days now. It hasn’t felt like it.

Even so, the pumpkins are swelling in the garden. The hummingbirds who did battle over the feeder in the back yard haven’t shown themselves for a few days. The Canada geese who raised their family in the cattle pond down the road have been gone for a while now.

Things are shifting. The world tilts, spins, shifts, rebels a little against the sun. Meek mornings are a sign of silent insurrection, not of any underlying actual meekness.

The dark days are coming. They are here. Let us light candles and bonfires in the darkness, draw close to hearth and home, bring in the harvest, and spin the long nights into stories.

Summer’s dregs

THESE are the days when birds come back,
A very few, a bird or two,
To take a backward look.

These are the days when skies put on
The old, old sophistries of June,—
A blue and gold mistake.

Oh, fraud that cannot cheat the bee,
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief,

Till ranks of seeds their witness bear, 1
And softly through the altered air
Hurries a timed leaf!

Oh, sacrament of summer days,
Oh, last communion in the haze,
Permit a child to join,

Thy sacred emblems to partake,
Thy consecrated bread to break,
Taste thine immortal wine!

~Emily Dickinson

These are the last hot days of summer, returning in full force here at the end of September. In the Valley, temperatures are climbing. It’s about time to put the garden to bed, but it feels like it’s time to water it.

Bursts of dragonflies explode from the pine trees on our evening walks in the heavy evening heat. The sun beats down as if it is mid-July. But it will dip below the horizon much, much sooner. Bright red globes of tomatoes still punctuate the garden.

These are strange and precious days, heavy with summer yet whispering in the slant of the light, in the dripping gold walnut leaves, of fall. Hummingbirds still visit the feeder, still war over its sweet sugar syrup.

But tomorrow is the Autumn Equinox, Mabon, the harvest holiday. Tomorrow the balance will tip, and thought the two butterflies tangling their flights outside my window don’t know it yet, the long dark of the year is waiting in the wings.