Leaves are falling now in a deluge. In the windless days, they dip down like feathers shaken off from some great, molting firebird. The forest floor is a fantastical mosaic of flame colors as autumn burns away the greens of summer in an inferno of golden, red, and orange. I’ve been wondering whether I could gather the leaves inside and decoupage them onto my kitchen counter, and marvel at them each day, all year long.
Yesterday, I mulched the leaves in the garden, and came across dozens of tiny, sleepy salamanders that I gently placed near boards and stones so that they might slumber in safety for the cold months, and wake up to green, green, green. The toads have vanished, but the frogs still swim in my pond on warmer days, and I come across wandering turtles in the woods whose varnished shells mirror the same bright colors in the leaves beneath them.
Over the weekend, Carter and I stopped to help several box turtles—one a brilliant orange—across a busy country highway. I always feel like I’ve earned my keep on the planet on those days when I assist road-bound turtles. I say to myself, “See? There is a reason why you are alive today. Go make yourself useful and save that turtle!”
There is only one animal currently occupying infirmary space here at our digs. That would be Maybell, a young banty hen who was attacked by Gertrude, our much-larger, nasty Wyandotte. Before Gertrude’s reign here ended, she had killed or scared off all our other hens. That only amounted to a grand total of three, but heck, three chickens is a lot of carnage for one bird! Gertrude abides elsewhere now. Maybell, who was fiercely pecked in the eye, has taught me yet one more great truth about life: You can’t wrap a comfrey and onion poultice on a chicken’s head. Just can’t do it. And goodness knows, I tried.
You can, however, feed chickens comfrey and onion poultices, and they like them just fine. Maybell is a very feisty little English game hen, who now follows me like a puppy about the yard. She is doing well, but has a necrotic, nasty smelling sinus discharge remaining from her Gertrude enounter. Hopefully, a long-term course of antibiotics, plus comfrey, onion, and garlic will make her less socially off-putting.
On these mile days of fall, a surprise three offers floated in for our cabin in the Rocky Mountains. All were for considerably less money than we had into the place, yet we were in no financial place to reject them. We settled upon the best of the three, and sent the signed contract in this morning.
The cabin was to have been my “retirement.” In my heart, it had become more like a savior to me, offering up the salvation of financial security in my older years. But alas, that was not to be the case. We all know what these times have done for home prices, and Carter and I were no exception. It sold for half of what it was worth three years ago. Half! Yikes!
Autumn is a time for gratitudes and griefs. Gratitudes for all the abundance of the summertimes of life, and grief for all that has been taken along the way: dreams, loved ones, eras, ancestors. I’ve written before that all these things we feel have been taken from us can be transmuted into precious gifts we have given, with little more than a simple shift in our inner perception. Forgive me, did I say simple? Let me retract that. Such things are never simple. Still, the promise is there.
But rather than make this honest case for allowing one thing to be transformed into another, today I champion the goodness of autumnal grieving. This season can embrace whatever deep-felt sighs we need to give over to it. The four seasons are the keepers of each and every human emotion, and grief and gratitude are autumn’s special expertise.
My father passed away in an autumn long gone. Carter lost his father and brothers to the season in years past. My first bout with cancer was diagnosed over two decades ago on Halloween. In just these few experiences, not even counting the many, many more, I hold both the gratitude and grief of the season in both hands. My loved ones are gone. My loved ones are at peace. John’s father is gone. John is blessed to have been loved by such a father. Years ago, cancer terrified me and still sends me into unconscious trembling on Halloween. Years later, I remain alive. I make no effort this season to transform anything, but rather to feel the lightness and heaviness of it all at the same time.
This morning as Carter and I sat in a coffee shop together after signing and sending the papers that will finalize our cabin sale by tomorrow, I listened as Carter spoke quietly about his father. He was such a good, quiet man, Carter said. A man who could do whatever he set his mind to. A man that never missed a day of work in his life. Carter said that of all the losses in his family—all three Knilans brothers, and his mother and father—that it is his dad whom he misses most.
We drove home to a gentle, quieting rain that spilled rivulets of water down the ditch-stream in front of our house. Out my window as I write this, nickel-sized golden leaves drift down with the raindrops and I hear the soft hymn of water and leaves landing on my deck.
I “lost” my secure retirement this morning. Carter “lost” his hope for some breathing room with our budget. Our fathers are gone and remembered and mourned. The wondering is over, and funds will be in our hands by the end of the week. Not what we had hoped for by any means, but enough, I think, if we are careful. Enough.
How blessed are we to have enough. How blessed to live where leaves drift like feathers, and turtles lumber in their jeweled casings in the woods. Last night, three of a tribe of seven flying squirrels ate seeds from my hand in the moonlight. I slept beneath clean sheets and a secure roof. I feel the ache of what is gone, and the exaltation of what remains like opposing streams of ice water and steam in my veins and I shiver. And I smile. And autumn enfolds it all and anoints me with raindrops and leaves.
My you be so anointed and sad and jubilant all at the same time. May fall’s bounty of inimitable beauty fill you up and sustain you. May you be in awe. And may that awe bring you to a state of peace. And remember—no matter what—don’t try to put a poultice on a chicken’s head.