The Summer We Never Had Is Gone

“I see your true colors shining through…”

-Cyndi Lauper

Green is still the dominant color in the foliage around Rainbow Lake.  Each day, however, brings out a few hundred more leaves that have lost their Chlorophyll and are showing their true colors.

We’ve had our first frost warning on my weather app…and that was in late August!  Since we arrived home in late June from our six months in NYC, there really hasn’t been a true summer, a season like I remember from the 1950’s family camping we did at Raquette Lake.

It rained a lot.  The lows dipped into the upper 40’s F on many nights.

Our burning bush seems to provide the only imaginary warmth…it’s turning red.

I find a beautiful red leaf in the driveway.  I mark the days off on our kitchen calendar.  It’s only two weeks until the Autumnal Equinox…the official end of summer.

I stack our firewood and wait for a guy named Forest (really) to deliver another face cord.

I love the fall foliage, the scarlets, reds, yellows and the deep dark browns of the trees that have leaves that just simply die. Die without giving us a palate of hues that we will remember and take Instagrams of and email to our loved ones who live in just two seasons…summer and winter, like Alabama or Mississippi.

But, I’m sensing a growing melancholy this year, unlike the years past.  I just turned seventy.  There’s far more of my life behind me than before me.

I lay awake at night and think of things that might have been…and now feel that now they’ll never be.

There’s a flash of color this time of year and then the wait, sometimes long, sometimes short, until the first snow falls.

That brings on a whole new catalogue of memories and sadness.

Am I alone?

[All photos are my own.]

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The Great And Silent Feast

I felt the breeze…

I stumbled on a tree root when…

Finally, we reached the pond…

yardleaves

Concentrate. Start over.

When I was a teacher I was often given the dubious privilege of “lunch duty”. A room, nearly the size of a gym, filled with 5th & 6th graders…or 9th & 10th graders and a hand full of teachers produced a noise level that made it impossible to carry on a conversation or to even think about the hour before you. Sometimes on days when I didn’t have duty, I would retreat to the faculty lunch room. Even there, teachers talked about the students, the administration or their Valium prescription. Still, no time to think.

As a last resort, I would take my tray to my empty homeroom and eat alone. It occurred to me that I would appear antisocial…but at least I could think.

Once, perhaps a decade or so ago, I found a guidebook to monasteries, close to our home in Manhattan, that opened their doors to travelers…like a B & B with stained glass. Mariam and I found one, run by the Episcopal church, on the western side of the Hudson River. It was a large estate-like building that sat high above the river in the Hudson Highlands. It happened that we booked our room on a “quiet” weekend.

No talking allowed.

During the meals, all I could hear was the clinking of forks and spoons on the china plates. A whisper here and there…but otherwise, silence.

I could think.

On October 7, Mariam and I with our friends took a walk on the Silver Lake Bog trail. The sky was azure. The foliage was at a peak. Brilliant reds, yellows, copper and scarlet leaves mixed with the green conifers.

pineneedles

[Even the conifers lose their leaves (needles) in the autumn]

I hung back and walked alone. I stopped to listen. The gently falling leaves sounded like a light rain. I looked around me and realized that I had walked into a grand feast, a forested restaurant, a silent meal.

And, I could think.

A gentle sense of melancholy overcame me…it’s that time of year that evokes death and endings and dormant life.

lichentree

[This once-living tree is now being consumed by dozens of organisms]

Nearly everything I looked at was in the process of dying…or already dead. What was alive was consuming what was dead. This was considered to be a fairly dry summer, but you would never have guessed that from that bog or our front yard.  I have seen more fungi this October that I can recall.  My copy of Peterson’s Field Guide to Mushrooms was used more than the previous decade.  It is now well dog-eared.

fungusinyard

It was like watching “The Walking Dead” with the roles reversed. Of course I have lived a life-time of seeing this every autumn, but on that day, the Big Picture came into focus more clearly and gave me the urge to put all this into words. I was a witness to the Great Cycle of Life. I know it’s a cliché, but there it was, all around me. The ground itself was covered by a blanket of moss and lichen that were feeding and consuming the organic material. The dead logs, many cleared from the trail by a chainsaw, were helpless to resist the countless fungi, moss, bacteria and water that were breaking a once tall and stately beech or maple or oak into mere molecules.

mossylog

[A dead log feeds a number of organisms]

And, all this was done in total silence and would continue even under three feet of snow and ice and temperatures of -37 degrees.

mossyground

[The ground cover of moss and lichen]

In six months, a small spore, a seed, a dormant larvae of a black fly would begin to revive and then bloom and the green would return.

Everything goes somewhere.  “Matter cannot be created or destroyed…it simply changes form”.  I think that’s Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics…but I could be wrong.  I stopped being a science teacher a decade ago.  Most things return in the spring.  Some things take a longer time…but sooner or later it all comes around again.

The exception, I hope, is lunch duty.

 

Do You Really Want To Go There?

Dark Lane 4 Blog

It’s early Autumn.  The air is crisp.  The broad leaves of the oaks and maples are sharp and bright in the sun.  Against the darker conifers, the reds and yellows are more muted–less distinct and less joyful.

There is a lane.  It seems to possess a faint voice calling for you to follow to wherever it leads.  The fair-haired, blue-eyed woman beside you urges you to take a few steps into the forest.  Her white hand suddenly is gripping your right forearm.  Without words she is telling you to not take another step.

“We don’t know where this path leads,” she says with her eyes.  You brush a red leaf from her soft hair.  You look down the lane again.  Something is urging you to explore–to follow the trail to its end.  On your left, a woman with dark eyes and pale flesh takes your hand.

“Come,” she whispers in your ear.  “We can’t keep them waiting.”

You look to your right.  The fair one has a distressed look as she stares down the lane.  Her hand trembles.

Turning your head, you see your car parked miles away.  How can this be?  You’ve only taken a few steps into the woods.  A breeze picks up a few leaves and stirs them at your feet.  The branches of the trees begin to weave and roll and shudder.

There is a tug at your right arm.

“Let’s go back,” the fair one says.  “I don’t like this.”

“Let’s move on,” your pale lover says.  “It’ll be good.  I’ll see to that.”

You are unable to move.  You stare into the distance and wonder where it will end and how far the walk will be.  Will there be a pool of clear water?  A bower of red and scarlet leaves?  An old farmhouse?  Does the backdoor–the screen door, bang in the wind?  Is the spring rusty?  Are the rooms empty?

Is there a house at all?  If not, why the road?  All roads lead to something in this forest.

You’re frozen with indecision.  You want to go forward and you want to run back to the car.

What about your lovers?  You look from left to right.  There is no one there.  Was anyone ever there?  Are you awake?  Is this a dream?

You look back at your car.  It is not in sight–there is no car.  Looking down, you see there is hardly a path.  It’s all overgrown.

A woman’s voice calls to you.  It’s a song–so very sad.  You’ve heard this lament before.  Nothing good can come of this, you’re thinking.  Nothing good.

It’s never good when you’re alone–in the woods when the sun begins to set.

When A Leaf Dances A Snowflake Will Soon Fall

Leaf1

I’m sitting on the front deck of our house which sits on a small rise above Rainbow Lake.  It’s late September in the North Country of New York State.  The trees are oddly out-of-tune with the season.  Some are brown, dead and waiting to drop to the ground.  Some are just hinting at the blast of hues they will splash your color receptors with–in a few short weeks.  And, some trees have ignored the short daylight and the 41 degree evening temperatures.  They are holding their chlorophyll until some command from the Horai and, they too will reveal their true colors.

I’m sitting on the front deck, breathing through my mouth and trying not to cough.  I am just getting over a mild case of pneumonia that I seemed to have picked up while traveling to my high school reunion.  My chest is feeling clearer and my temperature is roughly normal.  I’m sitting here wearing a fleece vest–but that’s nothing new.  I just took it off three months ago after wearing it pretty much since this time last year.

But I’m not doing nothing.  I’m watching a leaf dance.

It’s movement caught the corner of my eye as I took out a bag of recyclables.  A tiny maple leaf, part brown, part red and patched with black is caught at the end of a long strand of spider web that reaches from the roof to within a few inches of the floor boards.  Don’t even try to see the gossamer thread, its invisible as far as I’m concerned.  For me, the leaf is dancing its gentle pirouettes on the air.

That’s why I’m sitting on my front deck.  I’d be napping if I had not seen the leaf and I would be missing this special private recital.

Just now, I hear a skein of Canadian Geese flying westward.  Their honking has interrupted my silent concert.  It has led me to think of the passing summer–and the approach of the cruel and harsh months of ice and cold.

Winter usually begins without warning.  In the Adirondacks, it could come on the next cloud–it all depends on your elevation.  Here, beside the lake, it comes with seeing the first snowflake.  Usually heavy with moisture, the first flakes are soft, pure and slow to reach the ground.  Unless you find pleasure in winter sport, it’s a rough road until the Big Melt.

But, soon, if a strong wind doesn’t take my leaf away, a snowflake or two will collide with the leaf and adhere to its surface.  Then another will join–and then another.  The weight will cause my leaf to break its attachment to the thread and fall to the deck.  It’ll get swept away by new winds and then rot into the soil, under inches of snow, in our yard.

I have to go inside for a box of tissues now.  I wonder if the leaf will wait for me?

I doubt it.  The leaf owes me nothing.

Leaf2

Is This Really Happening?

JulyColorLeaves

It’s 5:01 pm on July 23.  Thirty-two days ago was the summer solstice.  It’s 64.9 F.

I’m standing on the back deck of our house at Rainbow Lake.  I’m chilled.  I have a thin blanket over my shoulders like a cheap superhero.  It’s one of those free “blanket” covers they give you on long distance flights.  (I didn’t take it without asking).  There is a cool breeze coming off the lake.  To my left, the leaves of the Aspen tree shake and flutter in the wind like each leaf is held to the branch by a gossamer thread, ready to break.

All around me I am seeing green.  I can see tiny slices of the lake water through the trees.  We’ve decided to not trim away the vegetation.  It’s cuts down on the view but is better for the ecology of the shoreline.

It’s July 23.

Seventy-two hours ago I was slowly walking down 5th Ave. in New York City.  The temperature was 95 F. and the humidity was at least 176%.  I couldn’t breathe.  I was just told I had a viral bronchitis thing going on.  Wrong place to be with a chest issue.  Ozone alerts were in the red.

My eye picks up something out of the ordinary in the mid-distance to the lake.  Something a mere four meters from where I stood on the deck.

I’m looking at a dozen or so maple leaves that have turned red.

Is this really happening?

I just put the snow shovel on a nail in the garage only several weeks ago.  I just swept away the spider webs from our kayaks and took them to the dock.  And yet, I’m looking at a harbinger of autumn.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love autumn.  I love the scarlets, yellows and reds…and the cool, bug free weather.  But…

It’s July 23.

I don’t even know where my swimming shorts are stored, but I never lost sight of my green fleece vest.  I’m not wearing it now.  It’s in the laundry after eleven months of constant wear.  I thought it was time for a wash.

Is this maple tree a genetic mutation?  Did lightning strike it while we were away?  Is someone playing sick joke on me?

I’m leaving the deck now and going back to my Rand McNally Atlas.  I’ll flip to Florida.  I’ll put my finger on Fort Meyer.  I’ll bet the maples haven’t begun to turn red there…yet.

After all, it’s July 23.

 

Gratitude From A Dragonfly

It was one of those rare days in mid-summer here in the north country.  The sky was free of the clouds that seemed to linger…day after day after day.  I was walking across our front deck and something caught my eye.  It was a dragonfly trapped in a spider’s web.

I wrote a blog about it.  In the post, I discussed my dilemma: to free the fly and possibly starve the spider or to allow the spider to devour the fly…thereby lessening the number of biting insects that would be eaten by the fly.  [Go back in my older posts to see my point.]

I chose to liberate the fly.  It flew away, I could imagine, feeling safe and free in its tiny fly brain.

I saw a thousand dragonflies this past summer.  I tried to get close to study their amazing wings…but they flew away.

~~~

A few days ago, after we had several frosts and even a dusting or two of snow, I was standing at the railing of our back deck.  I had just finished blowing off the pine needles and leaves that constantly littered the deck floor.  I emptied our tomato planter (we got about 12 tasty ones, small but full of flavor that only comes from something you’ve grown yourself).

Yes, I was standing at the railing and looking up at the overcast sky.  Summer had come and gone.  A few leaves held onto their parent-trees…refusing to give up, drop and then to rot away into our sandy soil.  A slight chill came in with the breeze that came in off the lake.  The insects of the late summer had been dead for weeks due to the frost. Or so I thought.

I looked down on the 2 x 4 pine railing (stained a light-oak) and saw a survivor.  Not just any survivor, but a dragonfly.  It was motionless on the wood surface.  I blew on it.  It didn’t move.  I was sure it was dead…but why did it die on my railing?  And, why didn’t it get blown away by the autumn winds?

A small part of me was glad it had chosen to die (do they choose?) on my deck.  Now, I could take it downstairs to my “man-cave”, pull out my binocular microscope and take time to really study the intricate and mathematically precise structure of the lattice-work of the wings.  I could look closely at what I assumed was a compound eye.  I could sketch it.  Admire it.  Study it.  And marvel at it.

Just then, in the chill air of the deck, it moved!  It was alive!  How could this be?  By all rights of nature, it should have been food by now…or lying among the rotting leaves and ferns and moss of our yard ten feet below me.

I don’t know enough about a dragonflies’ life-cycle to think that it missed the Great Migration.  I don’t even know if they do migrate.  I doubt it.

But there it was…on my deck.  I coaxed it onto my hand.  It didn’t try to fly away…just yet.  I held it close to my eye.  It was then that I knew that whatever happened, I was holding a dragonfly that had only hours to live.  Something would get it.  It couldn’t survive much longer.

I stared into its eyes.  I had a thought.

Was this the fly I freed a month or two ago?  Was this the offspring of the fly I liberated?  How could I ever know?

But, I can say this, I had two encounters with dragonflies this summer.  Hundreds that sat on my knee while I read, or sat on the lip of my glass of sun-tea.  They filled the air of my deck space.  And their iridescence was magnificent.

I came eye to eye with only two.  There must be a connection.  There has to be a connection.  I want there to be a connection.

Did the fly stay around in hopes that I would find it?  Did it want to thank me for saving its life?  Or it’s parents’ life?

I’d like to think so.  I’ll never know.

After a moment in my palm, it flew away…slowly at first…and then it vanished into the needle-covered pine trees at the edge of our property.

DragonFly

 

 

Where are the Corn Girls of Summer?

GirlsInTheCornField

In northern New York State, in late summer, hot sunny days are not uncommon.  It was the height of the corn season.

I practically left skid marks on Rte. 37 when I saw the corn stand to my right.  I had once been scolded by the robotic female voice on my GPS about making illegal U-turns, so I drove another quarter of a mile before there was a safe place to pull over and head north…north to the corn stand.

My father always told me: “Knee high by the Fourth of July,” when we were kids and awaiting the first crop of corn-on-the-cob.  My three brothers all had their own ways to attack an ear of freshly boiled corn.  Me? I usually went for the “Remington” style.  Approach the cob like it was the roller on a typewriter.  Chew non-stop from one end to the other and then drop the carriage and continue in the opposite direction.

Every once in a while I would stop to chew and swallow.

I had a deep hankering for fresh corn that day in late summer of ’13.  When a man knows what he wants…well, he has to turn around sometimes and go backward to get it.

And, that’s what I did.  I pulled into the dusty parking lot.  The little white stand was hard by the cross-roads (and we all know how magical cross-roads can be).  The small white shack sat at the edge of the cornfields.  The stalks seemed ten feet tall.  There was a faded red pick-up truck nearby…it’s engine idling.  A ruddy-faced farm boy of perhaps seventeen was unloading giant sacks of corn, freshly picked, and putting them on the ground in front of the wooden troughs where buyers could paw through them.

Two teenage girls, probably juniors or seniors in high school were working the stand that day.  An old cap and a bandana hid their hair.  The tee-shirts were plain, one green and one pink.  One wore cut-off shorts and flip-flops revealed dusty and sweaty legs.  The other wore unseasonable black pants.  As fast as the corn was unloaded by the boy, they would package them in bundles of a dozen…for those who wanted the corn quickly and didn’t care to peel a bit of the husk and peek at the kernels.  Cars came and cars drove off.  The dust made me sneeze.  I bought a dozen ears.  The girls took a rest.  They stood together in the doorway, safely out of the blazing sun.  I asked if I could take their picture.  They looked at each other and giggled.  Sure, they said, wondering why I was so interested in them.  I took a photo and posted it in a short blog about the “corn girls”.  Another middle-aged man with fantasies, they were probably thinking.

I thanked them and drove off.  The corn was memorable.

So, why was I driving north on All Souls’ Day in 2014…when the first dusting of snow had appeared on my lawn a few hours earlier?  I was going to look for a tree.  I had heard about a tree that held onto its golden leaves well into the early weeks of winter.  I wanted to see the tree.  I wanted to see the gold against the brown and grey of the already naked trees that covered the hillside.

I sat in the parking lot and looked at the shack.  The price of corn for the summer of ’14 was painted on the wall.

But, it was empty.  Where were the girls?  Where were the two teenagers that sold hundreds of ears of corn these past two summers?

I worried.  Were they well?  Did they graduate from the Malone High School and go away to college, perhaps ashamed to tell their new roommates how they earned their extra money.  Did either of them get pregnant and was pushed into a marriage they didn’t want?  Was it the boy who unloaded the sacks of corn?  Did their families move away to Rochester or Buffalo?  Did they find better paying jobs at the Kinney’s or Wal-Mart?

Most of all, I wondered if they were happy.  Did they still look forward to their lives like they did when they sold me a dozen ears in ’13?

I worried if their hearts were broken already.  Had they imagined the rest of their life while selling corn?  I wished they were still at the shack…even though it was empty of corn…I wanted to tell them that life holds more joy than sorrow…most of the time.  I wanted to tell them to look eastward (the door of the shack faced that way) and watch the sun as it rose, climbing to its noon.  I wanted to tell them not to look west where the sun set.

I got in my car and went looking for the tree that might still have its leaves.  The corn girls didn’t need to hear me telling them anything.

It’s just a fantasy of a middle-aged man.

CornGirlsStand