Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Cemetery of Leaves

We enjoyed a pleasant Labor Day weekend marking the end of the summer season here at the lake and the approaching arrival of autumn. We were here when school let out and people were putting their piers and boats into the water, and we are still here as schools resume classes and people are pulling their piers and boats out of the water. Some, in fact, pulled them out in anticipation of the arrival of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene and just decided to leave them out. I marvel at how short the summer season is here in Maine - pretty much the months of July and August and that’s it. Our neighbors here on True’s Point celebrated the beginning of summer on July 4th and now we signal its demise while enjoying a season ending Labor Day picnic.

When we came to Maine I said I wanted to stay here until the autumn colors peaked, which is normally during the latter half of September. And now that it is late September we are beginning to see more and more leaves turning with each passing day. It has been slow going; heavy rainfalls throughout New England back in the spring have caused some trees to drop their brownish leaves early. Other leaves were dispatched prematurely when Hurricane Irene passed this way with heavy rains and high winds in late August. Still other trees stressed by the unseasonably warm temperatures in July have already dropped their leaves before they had a chance to go dormant. Add to this a general warming of the climate (or so the scientists keep telling us and, frankly, I have no reason not to believe them) which is causing the leaves of other trees to turn later than they did even a decade ago. Still, the signs of autumn are with us. There are a few yellow patches appearing along the lake’s shoreline and the swamp maples are turning a rich crimson while the sugar maples are beginning to flare orange. Other trees are showing hints of the colors yet to come. I imagine we will be at peak autumn color by the time we head home to Maryland in early October. It was Henry David Thoreau who once wrote: “October is the month for painted leaves.” I plan to hold him to his word.

In fact, I have just finished re-reading Thoreau’s essay “Autumnal Tint” which first appeared in print in 1862. In it he catalogs the phenology of the autumn foliage near his home at Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts, while also describing his own love affair with autumn as he provides the reader with a rich description of the variety of hues exhibited by each tree and the surrounding grasses as summer passes into autumn and the year slowly draws to a close.

When the leaves fall, the whole earth is a cemetery pleasant to walk in. I love to wander and muse over them in their graves. Here are no lying or vain epitaphs. Your lot is surely cast somewhere in this vast cemetery which has been consecrated from of old. You need attend no auction to secure a place. There is room enough here.

Fall is really my favorite season and so we plan to enjoy it here in Maine, and then again at home in Maryland where it should arrive in full color in the waning days of October. There are other harbingers of autumn upon us. The local apple orchards in Maine are now heavy with fruit, and with each passing day we are seeing more and more flights of geese over the lake and many are overnighting on the far shoreline. The squirrels and chipmunks are scurrying about as they gather nuts and pine cones. They know winter is coming as the earth will go into a muted hibernation only to awaken again in the spring. Like Thoreau, I think I shall go a celebrate these days of autumn. “Let us walk in the cemetery of leaves.”