The leaves have been turning color and falling for a couple of weeks now, but today was the first day they fell in great numbers, all at once, in big, wind-driven swirls. We’ve had waves of wind and rain all afternoon and the trees, though some still have green leaves, are noticably more naked. (Is the use of naked in that last sentence an example of what Cleanth Brooks would call the pathetic fallacy? Screw him.) Just now as I write this, a few shafts of late sun are breaking through and throwing an erie but beautiful light on the pines and maples across the road, which are glowing green and orange as if from within. A real Wordsworthian sort of moment, a brief gleam fading now before I finish the sentence.
- The Canada Geese are making a hell of a noise down on the river, getting ready to form up and head south.
- At the local farm stand there are no more summer squash, but the selection of winter squash is generous.
- Days are warm, but nights are cold enough to fire up the woodstove.
- I’m working on poems instead of grading my students’ essays.
- (Later) Saw a flock of bluebirds flitting around this morning, getting ready to head south.
Our bedroom window looks out over the river, though this time of year the leaves of the maple trees mostly screen our view of the water. This morning I woke around six-thirty and looked out at the trees bathed in soft morning light. The leaves are turning orange now, though there is still quite a bit of green, especially by the water. I could hear Canada geese making a racket over by the island — really a sandbar with some low bushes on it — near the bridge that carries the highway over the river a half mile down stream from us. It is fall. Tonight we built the first fire of the season in the woodstove.
At school I have been reading tenure files and writing tenure letters, teaching, meeting with two groups of independent study students, teaching my classes. I have also volunteered for a couple of departmental committees, though I am trying to be a little less involved in such work than I have been in the past and am not serving on any university-wide committees. Amazingly, with a couple of retirements this year, I will be among the most senior members of my department. I’m enjoying my teaching this term, though yesterday my poetry students sat on their hands and looked down at their books, giving every evidence of not having read the assigned work. They’ll be getting a quiz on Monday. Same as it ever was.
Later: Why give them a quiz? It is what it is. Why impose my authority that way? Doesn’t it ruin the poetry? Well, I say in reply to myself, they can’t get the poetry — the real juice of it that I love and believe they might love — if they don’t read the poems.
I put the bird feeders up this weekend and dumped the dirt out of the big ceramic pots I grow herbs & peppers in during the summer. Took the screes down and put them in the shed & stacked the wooden deck chairs under a tarp. I’ve still got a few more things to button down in the yard, but the fall chores are nearly done. The first day there were no takers (that I saw) on the feeders, but yesterday as I was out working I saw a pair of nuthatches making regular trips between the feeder & the pine. Elegant little birds. Then, later, a hairy woodpecker put in an appearance. I feel very satisfied in the fall most years & this year especially so. My life is easy now, though it wasn’t always so. The thing about an easy life is that it requires responsibility. No one deserves an easy life — or everyone does — but if you’re luck you should do something with your luck. I mean me, of course. What is it Camus says in The Rebel? That what you wish for yourself you must wish for everyone.
. . . Collected by my pal Annie Ballerdini at her site fieralingue, including one by me that, upon rereading, I like quite a lot.
I’ve been enjoying fall this year, even more than usual. I grew up on the west coast in places where there was an observable but not spectacular display of autumn color. It wasn’t until I came to northern New York twenty years ago that I got the full experience or spectacular color and charged-up weather. I don’t think this year’s colors are any more intense (though they does vary a bit from year to year) — No, I think I’m more perceptually tuned-in. Maybe it’s just that I’m getting older and slower so that I see more of what’s in front of me — that’s probably part of it, but not the whole thing. Maybe it’s that I gave up drinking alcohol a couple of months ago — not that I was walking around in an alcoholic fog or anything. I suppose it’s all these things that have sharpened my sense of this season, the season of sinking down, which lasts a long time here in the north country. In August some of the leaves begin to yellow and by the end of the month the nights are a little cooler. In September, the maple trees begin to go read and brown, though the birches and many other species stay green or just begin to shade toward yellow; this is also the time of year you begin to notice more activity among the birds. Families of crows begin to congregate and migrating songbirds make stops in the dogwoods. In October the winds come up and rain begins to knock the old leaves off the trees. It is the colors of the trees at this point in the year — just past the peak of their intensity — that give me the most pleasure. Yesterday in my freshman writing class we were talking about Romantic versus Rationalist views of the world and the language we use to talk about these different approaches. It was a good discussion, but i was really knocked back on my heels when one student said, “I took a meteorology class in high school because I’ve always had a deep feeling for the weather and I was a little disappointed to find out how it all worked — it took away some of the mystery.” This is of course what Keats famously said about Newton “unweaving the rainbow” and I told the class as much, then went on to say that I, too, had always had a special feeling for the weather; that, as a child, I had had a little weather station in my room; but then added that I hadn’t found that the meteorology course I took diminished my feeling for the beauty, suggesting that one could sustain both a Romantic and a Rationalist / Realist response. I think that’s true. In fact, I think such a view is at least related to Keats’s idea of negative capability and that learning to sustain a sense of negative capability prevents one from falling either into sentimentality or the aridity of intellectualism.