Blog: Whatever Happened to Autumn?

Lament for autumn as it used to be, described in flaming enthusiasm by naturalist Edwin Way Teale.

Until 2001, autumn has always been my favorite season. I met fall in northern Michigan, -- the Leelanau Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula, which fairly ignited, color-wise, starting in September. Moving to Princeton in 1968, I sought autumn not only in our own woods but up in New England, year after year. 

Princeton Patch readers know I live in a different woods now, up on a hill above the canal (which waters often climb the hill to meet us) near Rocky Hill.  It's OCTOBER, but these trees don't know it. 

Back in August, brown (not yellow, not gold, not red) leaves began to curl and plummet on all sides. I have to sweep them off my car each morning, --unless there's been another flood or hurricane, that is. They're not pretty. They don't smell spicy. They don't crunch satisfyingly under my feet. And there's no color anywhere. Not even the crimson of poison ivy, the blue-red of woodbine, the sassy brass of wild grape.

Frantic for autumn, I'm re-reading Edwin Way Teale's Autumn Across America. He and his wife, Nellie, made four seasonal journeys, for which masterpieces this naturalist was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the Burroughs Award. The blurb (and no other is needed) calls this one, "Edwin Way Teale at his best."  (Roger Tory Peterson)

Autumn isn't just different in my memories. It was another experience altogether for Teale in the 1950's. The author has been on the road from Cape Cod to (currently for me. He will go on to the West Coast) the Badlands of South Dakota. 

Basically, for the Teales, except for one overcast night back in Ohio, there's been no rain and barely a cloud: "...a few thin, wan clouds..."  Teale calls autumn, "the dusty season." He describes the dust poetically, welcoming it, even attempting to identify its scents. He's not even talking about the late lamented perfume of leaf piles burning on autumn afternoons.

Forget my feeble attempts. Read about the season we've lost. Princeton Patch readers will know that I contend that we're destroying nature because of human greed/emissions/CO2 and the like. I didn't realize we could wipe out a season. 

"The flames of autumn burned brightly."

He writes of "sheets of golden foliage that the mirror of water reflected... luminous radiance... a time of vigor and elation."

Our flames of autumn have been drowned.  Turbulent waters do not reflect...

"Is there not a corresponding lift to the mind in this riot of color?"

"Old gold..., waves of crimson..., deep purple-red - stimulating the mind."

Teale rejoices, as he races with the color changes, in "the rainbow end" of this season, which he describes as "the one with lowered humidity."

As I wonder how long it's been since a sunset has licked at the tall trees on our hill, since a spill of sunlight played along the floor, let alone since I've seen the moon, Teale's "fall is the season of light."  He rejoices over "high clear skies and sparkling weather that usually mark the third season in the New World."

I guess our world has sudeenly become old.  The leaves on my hill are tarnished, at best. 

It's not only color and light we have lost, as Teale describes:

"The flaming pageant moves behind meadowlarks singing upon one hundred fenceposts."

There was a blessing of old India, "May you live for one hundred autumns."

No thank you.  This browned season is enough for a lifetime.

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