As leaves slowly catch fire with a glow like gold and russet embers—surely what William Cullen Bryant had in mind when he called autumn “the year’s last, loveliest smile”—the cool of late September beckons an exploration of the world outdoors. A light lunch at lake’s edge or on a wide, green lawn allows us to relish nature’s rich pageantry, and a walk among the trees to witness their fine regalia invites reflection as the landscape prepares to enter a time of stillness and quietude.
With the last vestiges of summer, the air turns crisp, bringing with it a gentle shift in the palette of the landscape. Slight shocks of ochre tinge the once-verdant woods in a forecast of the vibrant bounty the season will bring. We luxuriate in the last intimations of summer’s warmth with newfound appreciation and a lingering sense of melancholy for the end of days spent basking on sand and long, languid hours tumbling by in reverie. But this pensive mood is fleeting, and the first cool breezes that wend their way past trees and cottages are a prelude to a climate growing steadily cooler. It is a time of renewed vigor, when the hot, restful days are coming to a close and temperatures reward a livelier schedule.
The last of the cucumbers is gleaned from the garden—the tomatoes, by now, long since harvested—and tulips and lilies are tucked into their beds under coverlets of woodchips and pine straw for the eventual weathering of the first frost and later, a frozen ground that will reward neither blade nor toil. Firewood is chopped and corded, and our thoughts turn to domestic pursuits, to warm dishes pulled from the oven, and tranquil moments tucked under a soft blanket, tea at our side, book in hand.
The slightest scent of woodsmoke or burning leaves evokes a cinematic tickertape of cherished memories—homemade apple pie, family gatherings and feasts now transformed into joyous images like photos in a well-worn album: the last day of summer, the night before the first day of school. A treasured book once read by the fire, whose illustrations are now part of us, inseparable as hand or foot, is somehow carried in the woodsmoke, too—Peter Pan or Peter Rabbit or The Velveteen Rabbit, and not only this—being tucked under a warm quilt; a day spent with grandmother, her cookies still hot and gooey; a gentle hand to guide or catch us before we fall; a deliberate fall into a pile of leaves.
The season’s rituals begin: the raking of leaves and weekend drives for fresh cider and apple-picking in fragrant orchards. The baking of pastries and pies with ingredients like cinnamon and nutmeg, pumpkin and pecans. Watching the multicolored finery of maples drift through branches and descend to the forest floor to land where they may—a haphazard work of art created by nature herself, the entire landscape a painting for the ages, more wondrous and significant than any canvas hanging in any gallery, evidence to some of a force greater than ourselves.
Long walks through the woods may yield glimpses of this splendor, reflected in pools of water great or small, in pond or lake or stream. And we may consider the wonders of a world filled with such variety as we are lucky to witness and to dwell among. A single russet leaf falls, and we glow inwardly with gratitude for the beauty that surrounds us and for the extraordinary prosperity of our lives.
Text Cynthia Reeser Constantino