Autumn evenings

autumn nights - 1


I was in a photography workshop years ago–or maybe a painting class–in which the instructor told our class that “all sunsets are trivial.”  I think he was trying to say that unless we represented the sunset in some unique artistic fashion, it was just a plain old sunset.  My longest, dearest friend, and photographer, told me, “You need to get another teacher.”  I think she was right.  Like the old saying, “If a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears it, did it really fall?”  If it fell for me, then it truly did fall.  It did not feel trivial the other day,  when I photographed our mooring ball, now solitary and separated from its sailboat, as it bobbed in the foreground of spectacular sunset light, with darkness softly folding over another beautiful Autumn day.

The sailboat would have been lovely, silhouetted by the sunset.  Maybe the light would have illuminated the rails, and it surely would have created golden ribbons in the water.  But, the time had come for her to be sailed south for winter storage.  Don and his sailing friend spent most of that day with her rails in the water, as they sailed in a stiff and steady south wind, down to Dayton.  There were several instances of ’rounding up’, defined as “when the sailboat heels so far over that the rudder no longer engages in the water, to such an extent, that it can no longer steer the boat.”  Whew…I was glad my only job was to drive our car down the west shore, and pick them up when they moored at the marina.  It was such a lovely afternoon as I walked out on the long wooden pier, amidst all the sailboats, waiting for their turns to be hauled from the water.  There was something romantic, slightly ominous almost, about being alone on a wooden pier, jutting out into an enormous lake, surrounded by majestic mountains, and listening to the sounds made by the rigging on sailboats.  You think of the old stories you’ve read about the sea, about Man’s delicate relationship with Nature.  At last, a little white triangle came into my view, and the final voyage for our boat was over for the season.

A few days ago, while driving to our usual spot for a morning run, I saw a doe lying on the side of the highway.  There are so many of them roaming our property, and lining the roads this time of year, but she looked odd, positioned almost like a cat, with her front legs tucked underneath her.  It was only after we passed by that I realized one of her legs was in such an awkward position, that it probably had been broken.  I couldn’t stop thinking about her, looking so peaceful, head held erect and eyes alert, waiting for death.  I hoped a hunter may have passed by and taken his shotgun out of the truck, but, when we drove back home, she was lying on her side, lifeless, no blood staining the dirt.

Autumn is a tender season.  The leaves have given all they have to give, and twirl to the ground in glowing reds and golds.  The animals are ravaging the fruit trees, in a last-ditch effort, before the snow falls.  I saw the black bear, standing totally still in a clearing in our woods, and he didn’t move as I slowly passed by in the car.  After witnessing the deer who didn’t make it to winter, I was crest-fallen that he, too, was injured somehow.  But, he was not to be seen by afternoon.  These are days of darkness moving in, and Time moving on, all in such fragile beauty.

Whatever may be the power behind those dancing motes to which the physicist has penetrated, it makes the light of the muskrat’s world as it makes the world of the great poet. It makes, in fact, all of the innumerable and private worlds which exist in the heads of men. There is a sense in which we can say that the planet, with its strange freight of life, is always just passing from the unnatural to the natural, from that Unseen which man has always reverenced to the small reality of the day. If all life were to be swept from the world, leaving only its chemical constituents, no visitor from another star would be able to establish the reality of such a phantom. The dust would lie without visible protest, as it does now in the moon’s airless craters, or in the road before our door.

Yet this is the same dust which, dead, quiescent and unmoving, when taken up in the process known as life, hears music and responds to it, weeps bitterly over time and loss, or is oppressed by the looming future that is, on any materialist terms, the veriest shadow of nothing.

–Loren Eiseley, The Firmament of Time


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