The Yuletide lights are packed away,
Grey leaves creep down the street.
The trees at dusk are shades of grey,
Grey sky makes grey complete.
The old man mutters as he scrapes
His trash can to the curb.
The trees complain and sway their shapes
As gusts their peace disturb.
Thin clouds scud past the frozen moon,
The distant highway drones,
Debris from windy storms lies strewn,
The path gives way to stones.
A solitary sparrow picks
A solitary seed
Out from the desiccated sticks
To slake its piercing need.
We’ve reached the nadir of the year,
The time when flowers sleep.
No wish can make them reappear
From their repose so deep.
NOTES: Winter can be dreary in the Northwest. The days are as short as they are long in summer. It rains incessantly. Storms roll in from the Pacific and wreak havoc with trees and electrical power grids.
I know. I know. This may sound wimpy when my friends back in Minnesota are staring at temperatures in the 20s below zero Fahrenheit this week. It’s true that we enjoy a Marine climate here on the Puget Sound. It doesn’t get that cold, and I’ve shoveled snow exactly one time since I moved here 25 years ago.
But winter is long, and I’m eager for the page to turn and the return of the crocus and the robins.
I’ve noticed that walking without earphones or music stimulates the poetry center of the brain. I think it’s because I hear what’s going on around me. As I walked this past week on a windy evening, I noticed the tall evergreens making a perceptible swishing sound, back and forth, back and forth.
Read the second stanza aloud and see if you can hear it, too.
Afternoon in late September
Shows us signs we both can follow,
Shadows where there were no shadows
Days before, encroach on meadows,
Turning brittle brown and yellow.
Six o’clock’s a dying ember
Causing grown men to remember
Another fall’s disturbing echo.
When, unnoticed, fell the first leaves,
Yellow elm leave tired of sunshine?
Who suspected seeing such ease
When the first chill stunned the green vine?
Is embarrassment the reason
Sumac’s crimson hides its poison?
When was foliage last so supine?
Rainy night in mid-October
Brings the icy confirmation —
Twigs encased in shiny coffins
Clenched in cold that never softens.
Even daylight’s ministration
Alters no repose so sober
As the sleep of mid-October,
Sleep of spreading desolation.
Notes: Took a walk this evening and it finally felt cold for the first time. Cold enough to pull this old poem out, dust it off, and trot it out again.
Written years ago and far away, when I lived in a much different climate. My Puget Sound friends and neighbors might find it hard to relate to an autumn that leaves twigs encased in icy coffins, but my friends back in Minnesota understand all too well.
I recall one Halloween when my son and I set out at dusk to trick or treat in Minneapolis. We made our way about two blocks as it began to snow hard, then harder. We almost didn’t make it back home as we trudged through calf-deep drifts.
Autumn has its beauty. “Every leaf is a flower,” is a beautiful sentiment.
But the fall is also one of God’s great metaphors. And that makes it poignant, even as it is achingly beautiful.
The pasture is brown,
and snow has left the mountains.
But the sky. The sky!
NOTES: Late summer signs are coming early to the Pacific Northwest this year. This past winter we broke a 122 year record for rainfall in Seattle. We got 44.67 inches of rain from October through April. Which was the wettest such stretch since record-keeping began in 1895. (We rack up almost 9 inches in February alone.)
So, of course, we’re now working on a rainless record. Nothing since June 17.
But not to worry. This is the Pacific Northwest. No matter how dry it gets this summer, we know that the rains will return in the fall and remain with us for what seems like forever. So we can relax and appreciate the beauty around us.