Autumn is like that

The low gray clouds come rolling in from the north, like the sails of Spanish galleons billowing in the wind. Overnight our Indian Summer has fled from the onslaught of the cold Canadian air. The trees bow their heads and shake their leaves in the wind like sirens drying their hair upon the seashore. Living here along the roof of America, we get used to such swings in the weather. On armistice day in 40` a blizzard struck so quickly that duck hunters froze to death in their waders. This is why we wear our weather like a purple heart.

Autumn is a cacophony of voices, a swirl of emotions, a tempestuous mistress, and the all time motherload of overwrought prose.

Sorry, I got a little carried away there. What I meant to say was this, “it’s getting colder and the autumn colors and swirling wind are carrying my memories away like a falling leaf…”

OK, sorry. I’ll stop now. I promise.

Fall in Minnesota reminds me of my college years in Northern New York. There is just something incredibly romantic, and exciting about the change of the seasons at this latitude that makes my heart sing out, and inspires me to extremes of verbosity. Whenever summer ended, and I set off for another interminable winter in the North Country, I couldn’t help but feel bittersweet about it. With a male to female ratio of about 5 to 1, Clarkson was a cold, lonely place for a guy. I may as well have been joining a monastery. All I was missing was a hairshirt, and a pair of sandals. Leaving behind my best friends, and all the women in my life for another year of calculus, and thermodynamics always brought on a depression. If not for the stunning beauty of the season, I would have surely tied a cinderblock around my neck and gone swimming in the Racquette River.

My autumns in Potsdam were among the most beautiful ones I have ever experienced. The maple trees just glowed like hot coals on those windy afternoons. Even the coming permaclouds of October couldn’t dampen the season. Pumpkins and corn stalks always look more poignant when covered with the early morning frost. The days would shrink away until it seemed that half the day was either sunrise or sunset, and the scraps of clouds blowing in front of the moon at night sent delightful chills down my spine. This is why it only seems natural that Wes Craven had been inspired to write Nightmare on Elm Street while living and teaching in Potsdam.

The place is alive with ghosts.
While I never actually saw one, I could feel them moving through the town. Whether walking the streets, or climbing the hill for class, I ached with the pain and longing of those wandering souls. During senior year, we left town behind and rented the upstairs of an old farmhouse in the countryside. Even there the ghosts moved through the walls as easily as the winter wind. Was it any wonder that I nearly went mad?

The story of young men coming of age at Eastern Colleges is almost as much of a cliché as poems about foliage, so I will spare you a book length effort. Hell, I’ve blogged on about my trials and tribulations at great length already, so I will try to keep this short.

Leaves fell.

I loved.

I lost.

It snowed.

I cried.

Spring came.

I cried again.

In the end, I survived.

My heart is wounded still.

Autumn is like that.

The whisper

The late September sun is painting the leaves with a golden light as it sinks beneath the rim of the world. Already the shadows of the sunset have begun to climb the hill, and work their way slowly up towards our house. In ten minutes it will all be dark, but for this brief moment I stand on the front porch and watch as the sunlight sets the treetops ablaze with color. Fall can be the most beautiful of all seasons, and the one that makes our heart ache more than any other.

The long slow death march of late winter is still too far away to worry about, and the sweltering cicada filled afternoons of summer have finally passed. Now is the season of color, and light. The season of crisp apples, and cold cheeks, of seeing your breath billow before you for the first time.

As evening descends upon the front porch I feel the cold fingers of the night tickle my arms, and neck. Chills never feel so good as they do at the start of autumn. This is the time to pull on a favorite sweatshirt, or snuggle deep in a warm, and comfy bed. Even Maggie the Wonderdog, and the Indomitable Moxie are pleased to find a warm lap to snuggle in.

When the sun has set, and I have begun to shiver, it will be time to sit beneath the golden cone of lamp light, and open up a book. The windows closed against the chill, the house still warmed by the afternoon sun, this is my fortress of solitude. This is the one place I can come to again, and again to forget the petty distractions of such important words as “work” and “responsibility.”

The dogs will curl beside me, and I will peer down at the little words of black ink, stamped upon the creamy texture of the pages, and let my imagination wander unshackled through the meadows of my mind.

There was a time when I feared the silence. A time when I sought noise, and music, to hold back the fear and doubts that solitude coaxed out of the shadows. Not anymore. Now I embrace the stillness, and let it fill the empty spaces of my day until all of life is sunken beneath its amniotic warmth.

Sitting in my chair, the only sound is the audible ringing in my ears, so constant and unchanging I forget it is there. The world shrinks to the edge of the lamplight, and though the pages turn, and the times passes, I don’t recall having read a word. Stories flicker across the room like the light of a magic lantern.

As Elijah found, God comes not with a roar, but a whisper.

The American Chestnut


American Chestnut Tree

American Chestnut Tree

I’ve never seen a chestnut tree
two times eternity

Big Barn Burning

Even as a kid, there was something about the story of the American Chestnut tree that made me yearn for a past I never knew. The blight first appeared in Brooklyn in 1904, and within 50 years they were gone. Millions of trees stretching from New England to Georgia, along the spine of the Appalachians, spilling across the Great Lakes into Ontario, and along the Ohio Valley, gone. Mere ghost trees, whose trunks still exist, stumps ten foot in diameter, slowly succumbing to rot over generations.

There must be some melancholy deep within to make me sad for an event that had little to do with my life. The death of millions of trees could not have been the cause of such longing, just a symptom, like the rust colored rings around the trunks of the doomed chestnuts. No, I was born with this blight for nostalgia. This yearning for things that could never be known or experienced, because somewhere deep within I knew there was a better place, one that I would never know.

This strain is not confined to me alone. I was musing on it the other day reading the comments over at Front Porch Republic. A hang out for many such blighted souls that long for a past they never knew, and will never know. FPR is about more than mourning a past lost to us, if it indeed ever existed. Like the stumps of long dead chestnuts in the Appalachian woods, the remnants of our agrarian republic exist merely as ruins around us. Scraps of community, bits of human scaled economy, and the old regionalisms that make a Kentuckian long for the rolling limestone hills covered in blue grass, and a Vermonter to get misty like the fog hanging over the Green Mountains. Slowly, but with a quickening pace, these regional differences, these local identities, fade beneath the omnipresent monoculture.

And like the folks at the American Chestnut Foundation, the folks over at FPR refuse to give up on the past. They spend their time thinking, and writing, and arguing about the way to create a disease resistant seedling from the old republic, that can grow and flourish despite the blight around us.

Alas, the analogy does not stop there. The work that they are doing cannot yield fruit in their lifetimes.

So why do it? Why struggle to try to retrieve something we never knew except in books? Something that is so irretrievably lost, we still argue about whether it even existed. Why bother? Because they suffer the same melancholy that I do. They believe in an Eden that was lost through our own doing. One that surely can be restored if only we retrace our steps, and find the places where we took the wrong turns.

It is true stewardship work. Something that consumes the self with a guarantee to pay dividends to future generations only. It is work that by its nature will always be filled with self doubt, and self righteousness. It has to be worth it, because if it isn’t then how can we face that emptiness inside?

So keep on grafting the seedlings boys and girls. Keep grafting. We’ll go to our graves without seeing the ridge tops covered in the white flowering chestnuts, but that doesn’t mean they won’t someday stretch across this old republic of front porches again.

Look to the Northern Skies Tonight!

Official Space Weather Advisory issued by NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center
Boulder, Colorado, USA
2011 September 26 at 03:00 p.m. MDT (2011 September 26 2100 UTC)
A Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) that erupted from NOAA Active Region 1302
on Saturday September 24 in conjunction with an M7 strength solar
flare, arrived this morning at 1237 UT (8:37am Eastern Time). It has
kicked off moderate (G2) geomagnetic storms for low latitudes, but high
latitudes are seeing severe (G4) levels of activity. Aurora watchers
in Asia and Europe are most favorably positioned for this event, though
it may persist long enough for viewers in North America. The bulk of
the CME missed the Earth, meaning the storm intensity and duration are
less than what they would have been in the case of a direct hit. 
Region 1302 remains capable of producing more activity and will be in a
favorable position for that activity to have impacts on Earth for the
next 3-5 days.
Data used to provide space weather services are contributed by NOAA,
USAF, NASA, NSF, USGS, the International Space Environment Services 
and other observatories, universities, and institutions. More 
information is available at SWPC's Web site

Talking Proud!

I learned at a young age that everything around me was a lesser version of what had come before. I’m not sure at what point I realized this, but I know it began early in life. The drives up to see my Grandmas in Tonawanda passed by the hollowed out hulks of industry, their broken windows staring out at us like the empty sockets of rusty skulls. The quarter century long depression descended upon the rust belt at about the moment I was born. The economic grim reaper and I are both children of ’68.

All through my youth I felt as if I sifted through the ashes of a ruined empire. I sat at the table as the grownups talked of layoffs, and closures, and listened to my grandparents generation tell stories of the past over Genny Cream’s and games of Euchre. My earliest excursions beyond the confines of our block were bike rides on the back of Mom’s bicycle, through the bombed out remnants of the great urban renewal, to her office in the cavernous hull of the old Johnston Harvester Factory. Is it any wonder melancholy flows like oxygen in my blood?

Then came the blizzard of 77’, and the Love Canal, and we would watch our own decline on the nightly news, as we became the punchline of Late Night TV. As our world decayed around us, we sought escape from reality by investing our emotions in O.J. Simpson and the Buffalo Bills. But even our professional sports teams conspired to kick us while we were down as our woeful Bills dwelt at the bottom of the AFC East. So in 1980, when they finally broke their streak of going “Oh for the 70’s” against the glamorous Miami Dolphins, it was as if 10 years of pent up angst blew through the safety valve of professional sports, and allowed us to smile for the first time in years. In Western New York we came define our self worth by the fortunes of the Bills on Sunday afternoons.

I do not exaggerate.

So when the Bills broke a 0-15 streak against the New England Patriots yesterday, to move to 3-0 and claim sole possession of first place in the AFC East for the first time since the mid 90’s, I could hear the safety valve releasing from 900 miles away. As I type this I know in my heart that Western New Yorker’s are smiling at each other this morning, and riding the high that only Meth and Pro Sports can bring to them.

Sure, we realize it’s still an illusion. We know that win or lose, nothing ever changes in our long slow fade into history. But for one more week we are winners. Let us enjoy our moment.