Once again, I am hearing myself say the words, “I don’t ever think I’ve seen a fall so beautiful.” It is not true of course – I have said this too many times during our years on the East Coast to be right this year. And yet I feel justified once again in defending this particular season against natives who will encyclopedically quote spectacular years or unfairly bring autumns from their childhood to the table.
Not every fall is destined for the memory books. There are autumns where the leaves cannot wait to wither brown and shuffle off their aboreal coil – exhausted by a dry and desperate summer. There are autumns when trees scream in choruses of crazed vermillion-gold, but the rains are so heavy, one cannot open the windows to let the music in. Not this year. This is one of the rare and remarkable autumns. A perfect storm of temperate days, gentle rains, frosts right on schedule and colors that make the heart break and the spirit soar – and that’s just on the way to Wegman’s.
This is the time of year I want my entire extended family to stop sipping wine in Californian valleys, jump on a plane and share a humble glass of Maryland white with us as trees redden up and down the Catoctins. I want to hear the sound of West Coast voices oohing and ahhing over tulip trees in electric orange and red oaks trembling on the precipice of scarlet. I want envy, pure and simple. It’s shallow, I know; but if you knew how they taunt me with their citrus fruits you’d understand.
This year the Virginia Creeper on the north side of the house has gone the finest shade of orange-yellow, deeply veined with the red that usually characterizes all species of Parthenocissus. This year the dogwood has a bumper crop of bright shiny berries and hungry birds behave atrociously as they scramble to outwit one another. This year the burning bushes need permits and nights are temperate enough to keep the last stars of the annual garden – cosmos and zinnia – radiantly happy.
Dogs are in their element – chasing a hundred sweet, musty scents under the red cedar, or coming back disheveled and deliriously happy from a few hours on the tow path. I am less disheveled but just as happy – supremely satisfied in finishing a major bed restoration before spring panic could push it further down the priority list.
I have also been busy taking cuttings from tender perennials, pulling in the last of the winter houseplants and spreading mulch until my back aches – knowing full well that a random smattering of leaves will soon mar the perfection of my crumbly black blanket. For a few moments perhaps, I am on top of my game.
A few moments indeed. As I write these words, winter is coming in the form of a major storm, which, if the hype machines are to be believed, will end life on the East coast. Those last, reddening leaves are no match for the likes of gale force winds and unrelenting rain. I should finish up these words and spend some time searching for the land-line phone that plugs into the wall when the power goes out, then hunt for the equally elusive outlet rendered obsolete and forgotten in a wireless world. Trees will go down, the zinnia will admit defeat, and the season will be over. Period.
‘Till then however, there is another day or two to weed ’round the bee hives and clean up the raspberry canes and gather ye rose