Where once there was a shroud of green, bare limbs of willow and elm
stretch into a grey sky. The leaves are gone as well from the apple
trees and maple, from the thick stands of alder and cottonwood, and
from the aspen, ash and hawthorne.
Fencelines once lost to syringa and gooseberry have reappeared and the
rocky outcrop along the riverbank is visible once more. Brown
ribbons of road wind their way along the edges of the corn field, now
reduced to stubble.
There comes a time late in the autumn when all is exposed. After the
foliage has fallen from the trees and before the first layer of snow,
there's usually a week or two of nakedness.
spikes of goldenrod and stands of wild geraniums are grayed and
flattened by black frosts and pelting rains. In the pasture, the tall
fescues and perennial ryegrasses are matted and bending low.
Nests of magpies and tanagers cling to the high, pendulant branches of
the elms and poplars. The homes of squirrels, which look like large
leafy basketballs, lie in the crotches of the cottonwoods. Grass and
horsehair nests of warblers can be found in the willows along the
Homes and outbuildings are more visible too. There's a new pole barn
going up across the river; its skeletal frame rises above the frosty
fields like some monument.
Along the irrigation ditches there are piles of dirt where woodchucks
made their dens last spring. In the pasture, the pathways of voles and
mice are everywhere in the semi-frozen turf, radiating from burrow to
burrow in a maze of interlinking lanes.
At the edge of the wheat field, a narrow
deer path leads away toward the dark spruce wood on the ridge near the
The purpose of lanes and roads is made
more apparent this time of year. You can see where a four-wheeler's
tracks lead to a favorite fishing hole, or how a winding lane climbs
the ridge to a timber cut.
|Late afternoon in late autumn the
sunlight has a peculiar quality. Something about the angle of its glare
seems to magnify and unveil. The hills across the valley seem
especially close and distinct. The farmhouse across the highway and
down beside the river seems very near. The bare limbs of the trees
stand out against the sky like detailed etchings on a lead plate.
Stripped to our base elements, the browns and greys of this season show
us what's been hidden, both in ourselves and others.
Unfinished projects, unfilled promises, unflattering reflections. It is
a revealing time, a revelation and an embarassment, and fortunately it
is not long before the snow comes to cover up these disclosures.