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Fall Walk

October 30, 2005

Is there anything more insufferable than a bad writer trying to be good? Bear with me. I took this walk about a week ago, only hours before I was in the car accident. The good bits I actually composed in my head as I walked.

In spite of the rain yesterday I took a walk in the woods with my dog. I always dread rain at this time of year. The secret to a long and satisfying show of fall colors here in Wisconsin, I have discovered, is a cool, dry October that leads gradually to a blustery November, leaves blowing down gently into big crunchy drifts around Thanksgiving. This, in the due course of things, gives way to a frosty and stick-bare December which itself is, if you are lucky, topped off with a white Christmas. Heavy October rain tends to short-circuit the whole process, bringing down the leaves prematurely into soggy clumps that kids cannot play in. But yesterday’s rain was not heavy. It fell softly and steadily from a stone-gray sky of indeterminate ceiling.

logan in the woodsMy canine companion didn’t mind the rain nor was he cold. While I shivered in a sweatshirt, light jacket, hiking boots and a baseball cap, he made due only with his shaggy coat, all black except for the bright white star upon his thickly ruffed chest. He enjoyed this weather far more than the summer just past. This, after all, is the weather more like that for which he was born: rescuing shipwrecked sailors from stormy waters off the icy coast of Newfoundland, or shepherding a flock in the chill, misty, pre-dawn hills of Ireland and Scotland.

The trees, with their varied shades of ocher and purple, stood out vividly against the diffuse light of the overcast sky, and the deeper into the woods we walked the more magnificent they became. Their oranges, yellows and reds were pulled, it seemed, up from the ground, the last magic cast forth by the living earth before its long winter sleep.

When walking this same path some months before in high summer I happened upon a strange figure. His clothes were nondescript: a hat I seem to recall, shapeless and wide; and a thick beard. More memorable is what he was doing: picking berries from the high wall of brush on one side of the path. He ate them as he picked. His exact words I cannot now relate, but as I approached he told me matter-of-factly that there were berries and that they were good. He was smiling. I told him that there were what looked like wild raspberries up on the hill where I had just been. He merely regarded me pleasantly and continued eating. He did not invite me to eat berries with him, though I wish now that I had stopped and tasted one. Instead I continued on and left him there. Where was he now? I could not see him, but somehow I sensed that he was not far.; that perhaps he could be summoned with a song, and like Tom Bombadil, would come bounding merrily over the hill, offering to take us in where we would drink mead and meet the River Daughter.

But there were no berries today. As the path wound deeper into the woods the trees on either side of us seemed to be reflecting more light than they could possibly be receiving from the shrouded afternoon sun. Open to the sky though it was, the path seemed dimmer than the bright and inviting areas beneath the trees on our right and left. Their yellow glow was reflected perhaps from a different sun in some other unseen place. It crossed my mind, as I walked among the gentle raindrops, that I might leave the path and enter the warm light of that other place. Perhaps I would disappear entirely, only to emerge in some fairie land where I would sleep for a hundred years like Rip Van Winkle or be made the unlikely king of a race of magical beings. If my companion noticed anything unusual he did not speak of it, but, though free of any leash or command, he did not leave the path.

We walked on in silence, our breath visible in the damp cold. My bedewed companion’s fur hung lank and dripping, his head low to the ground. The path meanwhile had turned back on itself and we were heading back toward the place where we had first entered the woods. Another half-mile and we would be emerging from their unnatural glow and catching sight of the car. But suddenly in the path ahead there was a very large and golden tree, half its leaves still upon its fiery boughs, the other half forming a large scattered circle of yellow about its feet. I found this circle of leaves oddly pleasing. Their placement reflected only the shape of the tree itself and of the gentle breezes that must have carried them to the ground irrespective of the line of the path or, indeed, of any human thing. The path ahead was obscured under this cover. The golden wood encroached upon our way.

We did not not pause. Onto the carpet of leaves we walked, a calico-colored light emanating up from our feet and a golden glow raining down on us from above. We were caught in a sphere of light. In that moment fair Lothlorien itself could not have been more enchanting. And then we were beyond it, continuing on the ordinary path. We were through. Whatever magic the woods had that day, we had both witnessed and escaped it.

I put a red blanket down on the back seat for my wet and burred friend. He hopped onto it and we drove off in silence. I reflected that we all have a finite number of times to experience the magic of this season. How many do we get? Seventy if we are lucky? It is not enough.

Next will come winter and even if we visit the woods it will be asleep and we will know that it is sleeping. No, the magic of the season just ahead comes closer to home, in the cities and towns, in our homes. The holidays, with their lights and gifts and celebratory meals – that is the magic that comes next.

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  1. I love this piece, it’s wonderful!


  2. Cool… I had one of those walks in the woods this past weekend with my favorite dog. I am happy for you.



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