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Summer is passing. The signs began over a week ago and more appear each day. You can feel it in the darkness that creeps in earlier each day, the coolness of the nights, and the bite if tiny baby teeth in the early morning air. You can smell it in the afternoons, the dwindling of the aroma of living things, like the sweet, feathery scent of a beautiful woman who has passed you by and disappeared into the crowd behind you, dissipating until it is beyond even the reach of memory. You can hear the end of summer all around, as the piping and trilling of bird song quiets from a robust chorale to a soft lullaby, lulling the earth to sleep. And you can see it in the greens that have passed from Van Gogh to Monet, as if nature has cast a spider web veil over the world. You can see it in the fine, white powdering of the sky and the muting of the last blossoms, stems arching downward to the earth and petals lost to the wind. You can see it in the trees; in sleepy leaves that nod wearily from their branches, a few already beginning to show their age, randomly turning on a single branch on a single tree, like the first strands of silver in a mermaid's fading green hair. No matter how many summers I have seen, the end is always a gentle surprise, like awakening in the night and finding that the warm body that was next to you has rolled and shifted quietly away while you slept.
In the places where summer wanes and the sharp definition of the seasons is extreme, there is a kind of grief that must be endured at the end, softened by the knowledge that resurrection is assured and that all will be renewed, but one cannot help feeling that a lifetime must pass before it comes again. That is the sadness of summer's end. But there is a solace for those of us who live in this place where the summers are beautiful but brief and the winters are long and harsh. Autumn is our glorious consolation, nature's
gift of sympathy and promise. If summer is the heat then autumn is the fire, a blaze of comfort to carry us through the cold future. In this place, no matter how many autumns you have seen, each new one is a revelation, an intense, amazing, super-experience of nature, too splendid to be preserved in perfect memory, meant to be experienced in the moment. As summer diminishes the days become laden with expectation of what will follow, each morning luring us closer to the fire's edge. The transformation of the world accelerates exponentially, and the trees perform their dazzling metamorphosis under darkness to preserve the secrets of nature's magic. Each morning is radiant with colors so intense that naming them like colored pencils in a box seems woefully inadequate. How do you describe the red of the Canadian Maple or the gold of the River Birch to someone who has never seen them against a bright September sky? How do you explain the effulgent beauty of the earth, laid out below you like a burning quilt to someone who has never stood on a hill in October and looked out upon the trees? How do you convey the infinite variety of shade, and tint, and hue on a single tree that stands beside another that is so different, yet no less extraordinary? How do you convey the majesty of autumn in this place to someone to whom the seasons are almost interchangeable? They may see it in pictures in a magazine or paintings in a gallery, but those are a mere representations of what it is to know it. To know it you must also know the heat and green and viral insects of summer in the forest primeval, the frigid, brutal, relentless beauty of winter, and the brilliant, wet, fickle promise of spring. Autumn in this place could not exist in a watercolor world, it is the extremes of nature that make it live.
Here, autumn is a heroic season, the last courageous stand of a warrior before the gates of summer as the hordes of winter approach. The end is certain, there can be no respite, but it will not submit meekly to the winds from the north. It will face the end in a blaze of glory, resplendent in its fiery armor, knowing it will live to fight again. Summer is ending, but it will not go gently into sleep, it will pass with the blazing autumn phoenix into ashes, destined to return again. In this place, autumn is our gift, our awe-inspiring exit in a magnificent blaze of glory before winter's long, cold sleep.
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