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Impressions from Fall 2016

By Monica Chen

It’s late fall now. The scent of Sweet Olive flowers is nearly gone. Flower blooms have mostly folded, and the golden light of the season is fading.

Some falls are breathtakingly perfect. This fall, with its halting, bumpy rhythm, was not that.

The leaves could not quite turn, their urge to change sputtered like a bad engine, clogged from too much rain at the wrong time, too much dreary cold, too much heat. It was 60 degrees followed by 80 degrees followed by who knows what.

Like confused actors under an indecisive director, they stepped onto the stage, then stepped back, became annoyed and impatient, then stepped on again. Some of them walked off the production completely.

Instead of leaves, the showy colors of this fall were filled by yellow asters. Bur Marigolds bloomed in new fields around my area, blankets and blankets of them wherever there was room. The pink flowers of Slenderleaf False Foxglove also appeared, though not as many as in years before. And there were also these humble, white flowers, called Prairie Fleabanes. They look like messy, weedy bushes when you walk past them, but they are so sweet up close, especially to the bees who are working over them with urgency, taking in that last feast.

There were no violets on my street this year. Goldenrods have been few and far between. Late Purple Asters, still blooming, filled the mythical, dreamy place of the violets. And the wild persimmons have been pretty, but still not ripe. “Not yet. Not this year.”

Despite the unfulfilled, uneven beauty of this fall, it has been a welcome change to last year. Fall 2015 had a trance-like, spellbinding feel to it. There was a lushness to it that was so concentrated, and just felt wrong. Violets grew in the most precious spots. The maple turned red boldly. All the plants that should have bloomed did, in all the right places. The golden light of fall was a hazy, humid yellow that recalled the most heated, spiritual days of the ‘80s. It felt metaphorical, contained, not quite real. For the first time in my life, nature was like a story knowing it was a story, which unsettled me. There could have been no honest observation of nature, no insight that came from engaging with it last year. Walking on my street in that storybook-like light, I was reminded of Tim Burton movies, but did not want to watch them at all. It was as if nature had thrown up its hands and decided to give to people what they want: “You want fall? Fine. I’ll give you the soundstage of Legend.”

There were a couple days this year when it seemed the same thing might happen again, when birds flew as if they were in a jungle, with an abnormal, heightened intensity, and the humidity was concentrated, almost oppressive.

But then, the hurricane came, and everything opened up.

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Fall is the season of truth, when the hopefulness of spring and summer gives way to a deep inspiration that lays the foundation for the warm months that will come again.

The golden light has been pale this year. But this fall has been more alive, the truths that surfaced more real.

I was taking pictures one afternoon, enjoying that one perfect day that I have just about every fall.

There were construction workers on my street that afternoon. They moved naturally, not too fast, not too slow. There was no stress. There was just work, just the doing of the thing that needed to be done.

As I kept taking pictures, they spoke to each other with friendliness. Nothing was forced. Between me and them, no one was trying to be anything they were not, or felt embarrassed by what they were.

And then a feeling came and grew and filled everything.

Maybe there are no houses. Maybe there are no roads or lamp posts. Maybe there are just people working and being together. I felt like I could go everywhere and see everything with that feeling, and see everything the right way.

It was just the feeling that was in the air that day.

 

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