It felt like everyone was waiting “forever” for autumn colors to happen, since it was definitely later than usual. The leaves stayed green, but a dull green, and some trees had already turned brown without any show of color at all. There were a few flames here and there, but mostly not bright ones. “I guess this fall is not going to be one of the better ones”. “Sort of dull”. “Kind of a bust”. “Too much rain this year”. “Climate change”. “Wonder what this will do to the tourist season?” “So disappointing”. “Is it over?” But then ever so slowly, about three or even four weeks past what was “the usual time”, things began happening, and with that change I became edgy and felt the urge to shake things up a bit. The light had changed but it was more than that.
In yet another typical last-minute decision, I took off to visit a group of people usually seen only about once a year and decided to take the back roads to get where I was going. Literally over the mountains and through the woods where, through light rain and mist, I stumbled into such color I could feel my pupils dilating and heart pounding from the intensity of it all. Alone in the car, saying “Wow. Just… WOW” to nobody. Around a bend the vista opened to a couple of farm silos near a pond edged by low vermilion foliage, which grew beneath glowing amber trees juxtaposed against a moody gray sky. All of this reflected as if bleeding watercolors into the pond. The scene was so emotionally intense that my chest ached as I passed by.
There was no place to pull over. I considered turning around just to “take the picture”. But the picture was already taken in my head – one of the many memory photos that are permanently stored in an archive that cannot quite be accurately described. If I had stopped with my phone camera to take the shot, it was doubtful justice could have been done to what lay before me, and certainly not able to interpret what it did to the soul. Further on unfolded scene after scene of intensely golden-tangerine hillsides pulsating in that strange light against the steel-colored sky.
A few moments onward I wished I had someone with me to share the incredible beauty. Wistful memories rushed back to the vibrant autumns of the past and the moments shared with loved ones. Music by The October Project probably would have been an excellent accompanying soundtrack, and yet there was something about being alone and quiet in thought and alone with myself that seemed important in what was now becoming a rather introspective and personal journey.
Further on it appeared the Fall had already peaked, leaving only nut-brown mountains and patches of bareness as an indication of the season to come. Well, OK, that’s that, it was great for a while. Yet in another mile those hills became punctuated by spears of citron and school-bus yellow. Around another turn and there is a Japanese Maple of scarlet and carnelian pulsating against a dark stand of fir trees. A palpable presence of something beyond awe began rising up inside and radiating out as if electricity. It became so unbearably beautiful, I wept.
Then aloud, to myself, to nobody, I knew with certainty – “This is God”. For the rest of the trip I sporadically cried. Memories of other precious, fleeting experiences throughout life floated up like so many fragile, iridescent bubbles.
Autumn. The light is like honey, the air tinged with wood smoke and apples, pine needles and frost. The trees, mountains and sky pulse with the blood of the universe. Arriving at my destination, I was so overcome with emotion that I had to lie down for a while and let it wash over me.
Thirty-six hours later I was on the road again for the trip home. Coming from a different direction, it would be a new view to appreciate. The morning sky was a crisp blue, the early light creating a different portrait to step into. On the return the thought was to stop at the silos and lake and snap that missed photo.
Here and there was another foliage blaze to gasp at. One sigh after another. Exclamation points of goldenrod yellow spires against a hillside of darkest spruce. A flash of crimson oak, a burst of marigold tinged maples. I found myself thanking them out loud, all alone in the car. “Thank you yellow tree! Thank you! Thank you!” and then thinking “you are getting crazy”……but it felt so right to thank them for their precious gift. And then I hit more beauty that made me tear up some more.
Finally coming upon the lake and silos, I slowed down in order to find a place to pull over for that photo, only to discover that all of those vibrant ruby leaves that had been reflected in the lake were now a drab gray-brown, their vibrancy fleeting and gone in just over a day.
Nothing is permanent.
I found my religion again this weekend. There were no new revelations or discoveries, it’s still the same religion, just renewed. The preciousness of those small moments between people you love or care for, those still here and those who are gone – eyes meeting over a shared moment, across a table or a room. A laugh. An adventure, a sliver of intimacy. The beauty in an emerging seed, the turn of a flower petal. A flock of birds turning in unison overhead, the shadow of a cloud on a hillside. The devotion in the eyes of your dog. The magic of a baby being born, the glow on your child’s face, being moved by music, art, a rainbow. The incredible, hollow hole someone can leave in your heart when they are gone. It’s not new, it was only an in-your-face reminder.
I try to avoid using trendy cliché phrases like “Feeling Blessed” and “Grateful” and “Enlightened”. They are just so overused these days. Often one could just as easily say “feeling cursed” depending on the circumstances; although it is so unpopular to admit that truth, I’m there more than I would like to be. But this weekend I felt all those things, as if the trees were calling out, as if their voices could be heard through their colors. As a person who doesn’t hear well, over time everything seems to have become more visually intense. As the ride winded on, I felt profoundly at one with the vibration of the universe. It made me want to be good, to be patient and kind. It made me think about and ask for forgiveness. It brought forth words like “appreciate” and “gift”. It made me wish for the capacity to “accept life’s difficulties with grace”. It was an exercise in introspection brought on by intense natural beauty while taking the back roads, the longer way, the (oh, OK…) “road to enlightenment”. The annual friend’s visit was not the focus; it was merely the vehicle provided in order for this dose of religion to occur.
As someone special quoted to me a number of times in the past, “It’s not the point that’s the trip, it’s the trip that’s the point”.