The leaves of autumn in town have been a joy this year. Our property being pretty much evergreen, the drive down the hill to town each morning was a visual delight during October with landscaping tucked into the original mixed forest. There are many places along the road to peek out through the firs and oaks and see down into town or across the Santa Rosa Plain toward the green Sebastopol hills. The chances to see distant scenes are mere flashes of vision with so many curves in the road and such a rich canopy. There is never enough time to “see” so much as to realize that the world is much bigger than the steering wheel and dashboard in my immediate line of sight.
Deer are a common sight on the drive. They will bolt silently across the yellow centerline or trot several in a row just off the shoulder. They seem to move mainly in the same direction as the traffic. A driver has to pay attention.
It’s about three miles down the hill, just long enough for the heater to get warm. The final descent into town is through a tunnel of arching oaks. Here, on these sunny autumn mornings, the sunshine breaks through the leafy branches blindingly and unpredictably. Navigating is a matter of memory and faith. The morning joggers and dog walkers just love this narrow stretch of the road. It’s steep, narrow, and winding. They take the lanes as their own, as there is no gutter or shoulder to walk on, just a steep bank up on one side and down on the other side. The pedestrians must have a sense of the danger they put themselves in. I stay as close to the center line as possible, hoping no car will come up the grade while I’m heading down.
Just before the last hairpin curve straightens into a residential neighborhood, the full eastern skyscape floods my peripheral vision. Apricot and tender rose are the colors that fill the morning air lately. I always want to look at the big sky but I don’t dare indulge. The hairpin is calling for my eye to focus on its conclusion. There, where the road flattens onto the suburban grid, my country road gloriously opens into a residential forest of Chinese pistachio and liquid amber.
As everywhere, our autumn hues have taken their time to intensify, their warmth increasing daily. Finally, in late October, gilded trees are everywhere. All kinds of color, bright and tawny, paint the scene. There is a different color on every leaf, no tree a simple yellow or red, but a collage of urgency to claim the day. The eye wants to linger, to fathom how the umber, gold and scarlet can share the same space, how burnt earth, copper and rust can hang from trees. Not looking is a hardship, but the morning traffic demands attention.
A few blocks further along, I park in my usual spot and get out. I am free now to absorb everything that I could not enjoy just moments before. I give myself the time. I look eastward into the distance to find the sun and the horizon, the early light flooding through the trees. There is a sparkling. The air is wonderful. I feel the gentle heat of the morning sunrays. It’s joyous! There are birds flying everywhere, making bird sounds. People are walking their dogs here, too, but mainly on the sidewalk. What a season. What a gift. Each morning is richer, more celebratory, than the day before.
Last Friday, two days after Halloween, the leaves were darker but not richer. They seemed tired, just a bit limp, I thought. By afternoon on my drive back home, the glow had dulled from the leaves. They were beginning to fall to the ground, one color at a time. The leaves of autumn had come and would very soon be gone. The joy of seeing the daily changes would end. But I know that another kind of awe will set in. Every season carries something bigger than one day, one person. Winter is coming. With it, the dark, icy mornings and treacherous rains will pound into my heart a darker kind of gladness to be alive.