Archive for Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Shouts and murmurs

Sights and sounds of autumn

October 31, 2001

The reality of summer's closure and autumn's new beginning on Saturday morning prevailed.

The delicate impatiens, struck with the first hard frost, wilted, the thick-stalked cannas now fallen to the cold, ready for the digging, the field across the road white as snow, hinted at the season to come. These things, and more, such as the ice along the edge of the pond and the dogs, curled side by side in their doghouse as they kept one another warm, heralded this time of change.

Not a breath of wind stirred the air. Yet leaves of gold dropped from trees as the limbs released their season's grip. The falling leaves would have been silent were it not for the crisp sounds as they bumped into limbs, other leaves and grapevines on their earthbound passage. Like the large snowflakes of winter that pack into snow, the leaves drifted, each leaf far more distinguished in flight than later when merged in a thick carpet of autumn leaves.

Sunday morning, the breeze picked up, sounding at times like trucks on the road as wind tousled the tops of the tallest trees. Below, sheltered from the wind, the water in the ditch by the side of the road lay smooth, its reflection blemished only by a spattering of newly fallen leaves. A tall walnut tree swayed gently in the wind, and likely its movement wouldn't be noticed were it not for the grapevine twisted against it that caused a creaking sound when they rubbed.

I stand awed by nature's beauty and this season that I love. Autumn, when the daffodils are planted, when the zinnia seeds are harvested to save for next year's color, and when life takes a breather to prepare for another winter that will lead again to spring.

Autumn is the perfect time for reading James Whitcomb Riley's poem about the Little Orphant Annie who delights in scaring children with her tall tales and warns the little ones to be good, reminding them again and again: "An' the Gobble-uns 'll get you Ef you Don't Watch Out."

Or for reading another work by the same author a poem that begins and ends with "When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock." If there's any poem in the world that can make you smell autumn, see autumn, hear autumn, it is this.

It's likely that those poems were more popular when entertainment alternatives were fewer. Imagine a grandfather reading to his family by the light of a kerosene lamp, a candle, the light of a fire, or later, a dim bulb. Imagine the prospect of going to bed, and walking up creaky steps, your candlelit shadow moving on the wall, and Little Orphant Annie's words: "An' the Gobble-uns 'll get you Ef you Don't Watch Out" still fresh on your mind.

It's likely that if Riley, who lived from 1849 to 1916, were writing poetry today, he'd be ignored by the masses. He wouldn't be a rock star, a television talk show host or a sports personality. James Whitcomb Riley was simply a poet a man who noticed and who recorded in almost tangible detail the world in which he lived.

And now, almost a century later, his imagery still has the ability to evoke a sort of beauty and timelessness that merges with today, even as we deal with a vastly different world. Thank goodness, there are some things in life, such as the "frost on the punkin" that never seem to change.

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