Last Gasp of Summer
Sitting out in the backyard on a November morning with brilliant sunshine and mild temperatures approaching 75 degrees F, sipping on my morning coffee, it seems almost surreal given the circumstances. Perhaps it is the last gasp of summer, or simply a consequence of a random twist or turn in the weather patterns bringing warmer air from the south currently, but whatever is responsible, it is a welcome development. The warmth of the sun on my skin is oddly out of sync with the calendar as we approach mid-November, but even as I embrace the experience of the ambient air and savor the flavor of my morning jo, I know well that it cannot last much longer, so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and allow the thoughts to flow out of me while it lasts.
The day is young and there isn’t much activity in the surrounding area yet, so it is relatively quiet, with a few more distant sounds barely discernible in the background. Within there is a barely noticeable sensation of anticipation, which seems to be cautiously awaiting acknowledgement as I let go of the temporal stream of events, and open to the vibrations of my inner life. So much of what flows through the conscious mind can be ignored or cast aside in favor of the immediate circumstance one finds one’s self in until an effort is made to focus more specifically on a separate task, and it takes an extra degree of attention to filter out what may somehow interrupt the flow of attention and disrupt your focus.
As I sat contemplating my next sentence, a tiny baby spider dropped on my laptop screen, momentarily interrupting my concentration, just as a curious young squirrel stirred right beside my chair, apparently expecting some sort of attention as well.
Intermittent Moments of Silence
The silence is intermittent as the neighbors on either side of us stir and attend to their chores, but as I wait for the next moment of silence, I begin to notice other audible intrusions in the distance. The leaves have begun to fall in earnest now from the backyard tree and with the gentle wind stirring occasionally, bits of tree branches or other debris also drops to the ground, disturbing the intermittent silences.
It is curious to me how much is transpiring at every moment in the yard that is only apparent when sitting in a chair awaiting the moments of quiet. The movements of nature are generally detectable as they catch my eye, whereas the actions of people are obvious at a much greater distance since they can be heard more easily than seen. As the sounds reach my ears and are processed by my brain, I am able to discern what they are and to decipher the degree of attention they may or may not deserve, but the activity of the natural inhabitants in the yard barely make a sound.
Now it has become a contest to see how long I can go with near-total silence before being interrupted by one or the other of the distractions currently available. The relentless drone of distant traffic is easy enough to filter out, and the occasional bird song or squirrel chatter isn’t particularly intrusive, but even a distant single-engine plane can intrude in a way that requires a pause in the absorption of silence.
There’s a distinctly melancholy beauty about such an afternoon. There’s hardly a cloud in the deeply blue sky; the air is unusually warm and dry; the wind rises and then dissipates in an unpredictable rhythm. The cats have joined me in the afternoon sun, attending to their routines at my feet, and as I type these words, I feel a degree of calm that is uncommonly pleasing and refreshing. I’m almost hypnotized by the sweetness and delightful lack of concern I’m experiencing about what comes next. This is a new sensation for me, and even though I know it will not persist as the day rambles on toward the darkness of night, I am content to allow myself to absorb each and every aspect of this sensation for as long as it lasts. I am able to close my eyes briefly and imagine a time and place where such delight might be available on demand, but quickly realize that the pleasure is heightened by the rarity of opportunity for such experiences, and easily dismiss the idea in favor of the kind of serendipity which produced these circumstances. When I open my eyes, I begin to look around and observe my world of the moment, to take notice of this melancholy beauty.
The leaves are thinner on the branches than they were yesterday. They are falling all around me. The air is oddly warmer than usual for the middle of November; there is a gentle breeze that stirs every so often which releases the tenuous leaves for their short trip to the ground, and there are thousands of leaves already laying on every surface outside. It’s hard to believe that I had swept off the porch out back just yesterday, when I stand at the wall looking out over the scene.
I savor the mildness in the air and the easy breezes which send a cascade of autumn leaves all around me, and I am able to catch a few as they descend in mid-air. These are the ones I will press into my writer’s journal and preserve them between the pages as I have many times before.
Occasionally, as I peruse one of the hundreds of books on the shelves in my office, looking for a passage to quote or when reviewing the pages from one of my journals, I will encounter a leaf that was placed there years ago, and it always brings a smile to my face, knowing that it was collected from some late autumn day, sitting outside somewhere, fully intending to rediscover it at some later date.
The coffee is starting to cool off now, as I approach the bottom of the cup, and it’s time to refresh it, and review what I have written today. The words are only pointing toward a thought, a sensation, or a feeling; they reach out in an attempt to capture a moment in time, and to make it possible for the reader to share in that moment.
For me, it is a delight and a privilege to have this moment of life, on a warm and luminously beautiful autumn afternoon. One day, on some bitter cold winter morning, as I prepare my coffee in the kitchen, I will bring up this entry on my laptop, and relish the memory of every delightful second, inhaling the fresh air, the sensation of warmth from the sun on my skin, and the periodic moments of silence that inhabit my world as I contemplate the exquisite pleasure I once enjoyed on one fall afternoon, not so long ago.
This morning before I posted this entry, I walked out into the brilliant sunlight out in the backyard; I was astonished to see that overnight nearly every leaf left on the trees just yesterday appeared now to be on the ground. The trees out back are now almost completely leafless, with a few stragglers still clinging to the nearly bare branches.
It began to sink in that winter is well on its way now, with cooler temperatures and shorter days, and reluctantly grabbed the rake out of the shed to clear the avalanche of leaves off the deck. As I began to work, I enjoyed a brief moment of Zen, looking down at the various and multi-colored remnants of the season now ending, embracing with gratitude, the memory of the numerous pleasures experienced during the autumn this year, while still hoping for a gentle or less harsh winter season to come.