In the morning, the garden had been put to rest and, with winter close at hand, some Italian plums harvested. By afternoon the sun was warm, drenching the yard in golden light and the hammock hanging between tall cottonwoods was too much to resist.
Leaves on the trees in the yard were more yellow than green and even a whisper of breeze sent them floating lazily to the ground. The weeping willow trailed long fingers of orange turning red, while thousands of tiny insects danced on the warmth that drifted up from the lower valley. It was 3:00 pm, 65 degrees in the shade and the skin on my face was more than slightly warm.
Deciduous trees on the mountains of the west wall flamed yellow, orange and red in the sunlight. A bull frog hidden in the cattails crooned hoarsely in hopes of finding one last love before winter descended. Not knowing when the next chance to soak up some vitamin D would present itself, I stripped to the waist. At 3:30, it was still 65 degrees.
Cattle trucks had been in the valley, obvious by the bawling and calling of cows searching for their calves. A single car passed by with a solitary person inside. A large puffy cloud hung over the high mountain peaks: peaks soon to be as white as the cloud.
At 4:00, I offered my place in the hammock to Celinda, so she could experience what I’d been enjoying. Leaves, drifting on warm, light breezes, landed on the hammock as we made the change. More tiny insects, looking like diamonds in the glancing rays of the sun, and instinctively knowing winter was not far away, began forming mating spirals above the lawn. Long, silvery wisps of spider silk trailed north from power lines, utility poles and tree tops, moving in the warm breezes like the hands of a hula dancer. The sun coasted slowly westward.
Shadows prodded me into moving from the hard porch steps to a lounge chair on the lawn where I wouldn’t be shaded by trees. The single car with the solitary person passed by in the opposite direction. My face and arms are well tanned from working out of doors but, with the thought of sunburn in mind, it was time to put my shirt on. The breeze, though still warm, was beginning to become flukey and variable in direction.
By 4:20, shadows covered mountain tops while the wind shifted more from the west. As shade on the mountains increased, warm breezes were replaced by cool downdrafts from higher elevations. Cows continued to lament the loss of their young ones; the insect spirals become tighter, longer, glistening more in the sun’s slanting rays, and the frog crooned on. Celinda sat down next to me so we could enjoy the moment together. Small talk about living in the moment and enjoying the scene passed between us.
Shade glided quietly down the mountains with phantom fingers reaching out across the valley floor. As trees were engulfed in shade, the flaming yellows, oranges and reds on the hillside blinked out and breezes turned brisk. Above us, small birds had a territorial dispute over who owned the tree for the night. Lines of spider silver could be seen on the grass and shrubs in the yard. The wind changed again.
Threads of spider silver began to trail southeastward and the insects grouped more tightly in funnel shapes. The cat, on noiseless paws, walked up and sat down beside us. The dog, who’d been playing with his squeaky toy, came over to join in. Our little group sat staring into the disappearing day.
By 4:50, half the sun was behind the west wall, the breeze came down off the high mountains to the north and the once balmy air had turned cool. By 5:00, the sun was gone behind the west wall mountains. Insects were in the grass for the night and, possibly, the end of their short lives. It was 54 degrees, the single car with its solitary person passed by; the dog and cat, bored with the scene, had sauntered off to other pursuits.
As humans, we have opportunities to enjoy things that other creatures can’t, but even though our lives are longer than an insect’s, they’re only a brief flash when compared to cosmic time. To enjoy the small things that make life worth living, we have to consciously want them.
At 5:10, the warm sun on my face was only a memory. The breeze had a chill, the temperature was 51, shadows had spread across the entire valley floor and it was time to split wood for the evening fire. The only October sunlight left was on the high mountains to the east. Soon that too would be no more than a reflection in the mind.
Indoors, paper was crumpled and kindling stacked for the evening fire.
(The week passes quickly in a flurry of winter preparations).
4:30 am the following Sunday, we’re awakened by hard rain mixed with hail. At 7:30, daylight weakly creeps through clouds that cling to the valley floor and obscure the mountains. Leaves that drifted lazily to the ground are darting about on hard gusts of wind. The temperature on the porch is 31 degrees and cold wind makes the skin on my face burn.
The bullfrog’s croak is silent, a heavy flannel shirt, layers of clothes and winter jacket replace the prior weekend’s bare chest. Cows have given up looking for their calves and no cars pass by. Fast moving cold fronts are quickly replaced by another. When the clouds part briefly, the mountains show as white as the large puffy cloud had been.
The hammock, soaked, swinging rapidly in the wind and covered with soggy leaves, offers no restful haven. Insects that had filled the air are absent and spider silk no longer trails from lines and poles. At noon, the thermometer reads 36 degrees with the chill factor in the low 20s.
Yellow, orange and red leaves fly by the window, plums that hadn’t been picked from the trees lay wind blown down in the grass and somewhere outside a loose piece of sheet metal flaps noisily for attention. Celinda sits across the table while we prepare the fall’s fruit harvest for drying. Conversation consists of small talk about living in the moment and enjoying life as it’s presented.
The day passes in various shades of gray, occasional gusts of wind and down pouring of rain. The dog, squeaky toy forgotten, sleeps in the corner, the cat buries her head in her paws on the bed and my book falls into my lap. No birds are flying, the high mountains can’t be seen through the rain/snow mix and the feeling of sun warm on my face has faded. The temperature drops below freezing as the day’s faint, cloud filtered light begins to fade.
Soon with the slower pace of winter replacing the flurry of summer and fall, white will cover the valley .
Paper is crumpled and kindling stacked for the evening fire.