For a year and a half I’ve paused at this tree next to this creek bank in these Virginia woods, wondering when it was finally going to fall, what storm would prove to be too much for an ancient root system, which wind gust would push it over. I’ve also wondered about its history. How long has it been standing here, how many birds has it harbored in nests, how many generations of children have attempted to climb it? Has a rope every been tied to its branches so children could swing out over the water? How many winters has it been covered in snow? How many springs saw it leaf out into a cacophony of brilliant new green leaves?
The trees here grow very tall and very strong. They tower above me for as far as I can see, testimonies to strength and the ability to weather many storms and weather conditions. For decades on end they go from seed to sapling to mature trees, the strongest among them bending with the wind, firmly rooted in the soil beneath them.
Sometime in the few weeks since I last walked this trail that final wind gust came along or perhaps the day simply came when nothing was left to hold it up anymore. I like to think that it went down in a mighty gust of wind, with all the noise and fanfare it deserved on its final journey back into the ground it emerged from as a tiny sprout.
Although it now lies fallen, it still speaks loud and clear about all the years it stood, tall and resilient to nature’s forces.
Through every long, hot, sweltering summer I wait for October. The month itself is my happy place.
October encompasses thirty-one days of transition during which summer lingers and obstinately hangs around, the first days of the month often acting like they belong to August, but eventually giving way to shiver inspiring mornings and nights that beg for fires to be lit.
The greens of summer hold on as long as they possibly can, reluctantly giving way to the yellows and golds that are the harbingers of nature’s last burst of celebration, when reds and oranges emerge in a blaze of glory before the woods settle into the deep sleep of winter.
I turn to the woods on October days. There’s solitude in them, and a peace that takes hold of my soul. Leaves twist and turn, caught by the wind as they flutter from high perches to take their place on the carpet of color at my feet. Small streams meander alongside, and often in the way of, well-worn walking paths. I stop, fascinated with the movement of light and color beneath and on top of the water.
On this 15th day of October, I sit on my deck, surrounded by the very woods I walk in, and I can feel the expectancy of the cacophony of color that lies in wait. It’s close. Within a week these trees will be glorious and I’ll try to spend as much time as I can among them.
As I wait I have memories of other autumns and other Octobers in other places.
I came into this world in October. When the time comes, I hope I also exit it during this glorious month. Before the first snow comes I want autumn leaves to rest on my grave.