Harvest of the Senses

Like kamikazes sacrificially plummeting from the sky, I watched some of the first leaves fall to earth yesterday. Which always makes me sad. Though I cannot blame them… It’s been a long, hot, thirsty summer and frankly I am amazed at their capacity to have held on this long with little to no liquid nourishment from above.

Autumn is without a doubt my favorite season as it unwaveringly causes me to become reflective. For some, reflection comes with the arrival of the New Year… 365 pre-packaged days bursting with possibility. Or perhaps it is spring that stirs within others dreams of opportunity and renewal. But for me, there is no time of year where change is as palpable as in the fall.

If you will, consider how all five of our senses are engaged during the transition that accompanies fall…

The wind feels cooler against our skin that—not long ago bare—is now covered with softer, warmer fabrics.

The air smells crisper, edged with the saccharine scent of our biological world as it breaks down around us.

Our palette changes to accommodate warmer things, tasting both spicy and sweet.

Our sight is continually stimulated by the brilliant colors and shifting shades of the leaves, grasses and the fields of the harvest.

Our surroundings grow quieter and still as the cool weather begins to slow us down. And all that can be heard is the distant falling, rustling and crunching of the leaves as they give themselves over to Time.

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Remembering…

Admittedly, I had another post all set to publish this morning. And I suppose you could attribute that to the fact that September 11, 2001 is drifting further and further away from us as the calendar pages fly. Increasingly, today feels like any other day. I’m not sure if that is a sign of healing or complacency… a good thing or a bad one. But as I woke and listened to the news and was reminded of the gruesome reality and continued significance of this day — I could not help but feel the need to pay homage to those lost on that Tuesday morning that was “just like every other morning.”

This photo was taken in February at the 9/11 memorial when we visited this year. The morning we wandered these sacred grounds was one of mixed emotion. On the one hand, I felt so fortunate to be able to take in this site with Lee… To have personally come full-circle by standing so near the void of those towers and taking in, with amazement, the wonder of how such a place of horror can be restored. Yet on the other hand, to wish—as I ran my gloved fingers over the names forever etched into history on the sobering black stone that surrounded each tower’s footprint—that this memorial need not to have been created in the first place.

The Encore

I smelled Fall today. I think there are finally enough leaves on the ground that you can actually begin to smell them. You know, like when you were a kid and you raked them and raked them into huge, heaping piles and then dove head-long into them! You would plunge right into the center of that crispy-sweet, earthy scent. There is nothing else like it. It is in the air for just a few weeks… fleeting but heavenly. This is my favorite time of year.

Summer seems to yield to Fall so suddenly. One week you’re wearing shorts and flip-flops and the next you’re reaching into the back of the closet for that favorite sweatshirt. Bare feet search for fuzzy socks and slippers. Windows are opened at night and an extra blanket tossed on the bed. Shadows from the trees lay longer and longer across remnants of green grass… stretching for the last few drops of sunshine before the cold renders them silent. Darkness comes sooner than the night before.

With the glorious colors of the season I have searched and searched for the right words to describe this unique and transformational time of year. But nothing I come up with seems to do it justice. They say a picture is worth a thousand words… and that statement could not be more true of autumn. I guess that’s why—over the years—I’ve turned the camera’s lens to capture so many images of the brilliant leaves when the late afternoon sun is dancing on them. Words simply aren’t sufficient.

Though finally one day it came to me. I believe “encore” to be an appropriate word… if there is one. The dictionary defines encore as: an additional performance in response to the demand of an audience.

If we are the audience… and Spring, with it’s debut of flowers and tender new buds, is the Opening Act, and Summer, with it’s long days and warm nights is the Main Performance… then Fall must be the Encore. The verdant reign of Summer ends in one big blaze of glory. One final number before the white curtain of Winter falls.

No Trespassing or “Dueling Banjos”

My dad tells me I watch way too many movies. And maybe he is right about that. Plus, I also have a pretty active imagination… But seriously, it did feel like a scene straight out of “Deliverance” at times. The woods were thick in every direction, the roads narrow and winding and the hillsides were extremely steep. Several of the houses and driveways were completely overgrown with weeds, and even though I was only a few miles from town… it felt remote enough that I was fairly certain no one would ever hear me scream.

<cue “Dueling Banjos”>

At one point I passed a boy driving a 4-wheeler, dressed in so much camouflage I almost didn’t see him. He had at least 2 cross-bows with him and as our paths crossed, he just GLARED at me. Come to think of it, everyone that I passed glared at me. Maybe because they knew I didn’t belong. A girl dressed in church clothes and heels, driving a silver Pontiac with the sunroof open and the radio cranked to Billy Joel, doesn’t exactly BLEND in with camo, ammo, tractors, 4-wheel-drive pick-up trucks and 3-legged dogs with one eye named “Lucky.”

But I was on a mission. There’s probably only one, maybe two weeks left of bright sunshine and glorious, leafy, green trees before everything drops to the ground, surrendering to winter. Full of determination and with the camera in tow, I headed out to the country. I was driving on some back roads to find the most beautiful photo ops. And the whole taking-my-life-into-my-own-hands-thing aside… I did manage to get some beautiful shots!

When I was satisfied that I had gotten all of the best pictures I could without my family having to send out a search party, I headed for home. On my way home I spotted these full, verdant trees along the edge of some water and knew that I HAD to get a shot of this. But I couldn’t just stop on the road because any on-coming traffic would not be able to see me. So I looked around for a place to park the car and walk to the right spot in which to shoot the picture. I noticed a little white house that looked harmless enough, and conveniently there was a place to park at the edge of the property, without blocking the driveway. It was technically on their property, and there was a “NO TRESPASSING” sign posted right beside where I parked… But I really didn’t think they would mind. Plus, I’d be so quick about it that they might never even know I was there.

I took my photos and began walking back to the car and was about to climb in when this dog comes out of nowhere and charges toward me barking wildly. Here we go. This is it. I’m in trouble. Either they’ve called the police, who will be here in no time to arrest me for trespassing, or I’m gonna end up in these people’s freezer. I cringe as the dog gets closer… prepared for the mauling I was sure was imminent. My mind flashing forward to the battery of rabies shots I was going to receive if I survived.

Just as the dog reaches me, I see the owner. It’s an older lady, but not the just-got-back-from-church-and-baking-a-pie kind of older lady. No this lady was dressed in jeans and flannel and I honestly couldn’t get a read on her or her dog right away. Instead of fleeing (I’d never outrun the dog) I decided to face my fate head on. I said hello to her and the dog magically dropped to a seated position at my feet. Whew! Rabies crisis averted. She said hello but was definitely not there to make small talk. She’d come to check out the trespasser who’d had the nerve to park on her property. I could tell by the way she was looking at me that she was sizing me up (probably determining whether or not they had room for me in the fridge). And I also noticed that she walked with a bit of a limp. Oh for crying out loud! This was SO a scene from a movie: Nice, innocent girl slaughtered by old, limping, flannel-clad woman in Backwoods House of Horrors.

I introduced myself and explained what I was doing, figuring it sounded decent enough. I mean it wasn’t as if I was out there mutilating squirrels and other small woodland creatures… I was taking nature pictures. What could be more harmless than that? She asked if the photos were “just for me” and I said that they were. I explained how I grew up near there and had been away for years and was still quite taken with the beauty of this time of year. It was then that she said: “I have some lovely trees in my backyard, if you would like to see them. You’re welcome to photograph those.”

Sure, sure… I thought… this was her ploy to lure to me deeper onto her property, and once I was out of public sight in her “backyard,” the real nightmare would begin. But I knew that the polite thing to do was to follow her. After all, I DID trespass and now she was asking me to see her backyard… the least I could do was indulge her. Although I WAS certain that her husband or son would be waiting for me behind the house with a chainsaw.

As I followed her and her dog, I grew a bit more nervous when I noticed that we would have to walk through a little corridor between the house and the shed. The passageway was draped with a tarp and had only slits in the front and back in order to pass in and out. Oh yeah… I’m definitely a goner. However, when I tentatively pulled back the edge of the tarp and peered inside, I saw that the enclosed space was not full of bloody limbs from previous victims… but fresh, garden-grown produce!! All sizes and colors of zucchini and tomatoes with prices marked on them. She was not a homicidal maniac! This woman was just a produce-peddler! For the second time in 5 minutes relief washed over me. I was not going to meet with some horrible demise in the backyard of this sweet old woman’s home.

The view of the woods from her backyard was gorgeous, and she told me how she’s been sitting at her breakfast table every day watching the leaves transform. Her and her dog… Millie. Harmless little Millie… the sweet attack dog who was now licking my hands while I stroked her fur. I took some photographs of the view AND the fresh veggies and talked with her a little while before getting back in the car and driving away. She told me I was welcome to come back anytime to visit or photograph her property. I could park my car on her land and take as many pictures as I’d like. I waved good-bye to both her and Millie as I drove toward civilization.

Perhaps I do watch too many movies… but real life or fiction… you still never know how the story is going to end. Luckily, this one ended happily-ever-after.

<banjo music fades>