Amidst the beauty of high summer, autumn came calling last week. The oak tree that shades the flower garden next to our cottage sent a cascade of acorns onto the roof.
The little immature green acorns with their jaunty hats lay where they had fallen earlier, but further inspection of the deck revealed a conspiracy of sorts between the tree and some resident chipmunks who had been collecting the mature fruit for their subterranean larders and colder times. You could see tiny footprints on the wet deck and evidence that the larger, mature acorns had been gathered up by our industrious, furry underground neighbors.
I should have known that the seasons were about to change. The signs were everywhere. Nights came earlier every day, a soft dimming of the day one minute at a time. The impatiens that I had rushed into the window boxes in June were now ready to set seed in their amusing pods, bioengineered to pop open with the slightest of touches. The color palate of the roadsides had moved from the white August elegance of Queen Ann’s Lace and black eyed Susans to the drama of purple loosestrife and asters, punctuated by glorious goldenrod and the more serious spikes of cattails. The sumac is at the ready, its blooms ready to break, preparing its fiery red displays for a pre-winter competition with the maples. The Autumn Joy sedum was in flower.
We shutter the open windows at night to keep in the day’s warmth against the chill of the lake winds. Comforters, folded at the foot of the bunks all summer long are unrolled. Sleep comes easy in the cool night and waking, coffee in hand, makes the crisp morning air extraordinary.
It’s time to clean out the gutters, to plan the removal of the dock and the storage of the kayaks, disconnecting the water line. We’ll set a date to remove and wash the bedding, returning it to the tightly-closed metal cabinet that keeps field mice at bay. There will be a final cleanup sometime near the end of October and, when we leave the cottage that day, the decks will be empty, the barbecue and furniture stored for another long winter, along with the summer’s memories.
It seems so long ago that October meant weekends at the cottage, the children walking the expanded shoreline beaches, collecting kindling and beach glass. We’d build a fire on the beach, roast hot dogs and marshmallows and warm our hands around mugs of hot cocoa. Later, we’d sort through the water-smoothed pieces of glass, rejoicing in finding a purple or a bottle green shard. We’d enjoy the balmy days and crisp cold nights when a fire in the wood stove allowed for serious games of scrabble and Monopoly, finding us warmed by both the fire and family. We would stand on the porch and watch the moon swim over the glassy surface of the night-time lake, or, wrapped in sweaters, watch waves dance to the strong fall winds. Either was close to paradise.
As the seasons turn, so do the lives of the members of our family. Distances of miles, of new traditions or new responsibilities have changed the uses of summer and fall. But with grandchildren and the prospect of future autumn nights, gathered against the chill, creating tales of times resonating with the meaning of family, something like the past memories will return in its own time and way. New generations will be creating their own protocols for transitions, endings.
I will do what has to be done with this season’s syllabus laying out in front of me. The sounds of the season, whether acorns on the roof or geese calling their way south, are whispering of another succession, another kind of beauty to come.