A leaf landed perfectly on Anne’s hair and balanced there. Another landed between the tip of her wire-rims and the fold of her brow. Nestling there, like some fledgling of the season.
It was warm autumn, blowsy, lazy – a “seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness” day – when we started that walk. A nuncio, anticipatory sort of day. Come to the village square and hear the proclamation: the Fall of the Year has arrived. Go and live in accordance, knowing this truth in your heart.
Oh, and maybe do a little preparation.
The wind meant something. We thought it meant rain, going by the forecast. Clouds thickened as walked along the banks of the Stockbridge Bowl. We glimpsed a single pink-hulled kayaker paddling near the shore. A handsome and sizable sailboat lay moored close to the bend in the trail where we stop by the reclining white birch to contemplate the water. The yacht had safe-harbor looking cabin, and Anne called it a floating house. But the clouds let off only a few drops, a sly low-key drizzle that barely made its way through the trees to reach us. More a rumor of rain than the thing itself. We could scarcely make out the drops on the surface of the lake.
A few hours later, though it did not rain, the sky remained thick with clouds and the temperature began to drop. Close to sunset I marshaled us back into the car for a quick drive down to the break in the woods formed by the “causeway” – water on both sides of this stretch of road: the full oval of the Stockbridge Lake on the left; a marsh of run off and thick rushes on the right – and hoped for a peek at a sunset.
By then we had a change in the weather to accommodate. The temperature plummeted like an unwary skater breaking through ice. The cold front predicted for days had fattened on that warm, high-canopy, mellow wind of midday that had gifted us with the gold currency of autumn leaves falling in our hands and in our hair. Now that wind simply blew ice cold. The car thermometer registered 56, down 25 degrees from our arrival. And the wind-chill made it feel much colder.
We left the car alongside the causeway and faced west, over the pond. A gap opened in the clouds and clear sky appeared between the top of the ridge and the steel-gray cloud cover above. This place reflected the progress of the sun dropping behind the hill, while its light still shone in the sky west of our summit. Continents of cloud rode through and over this sun-bright space in the heavens, big gray masses closing against one another, the color of the still undeparted sun that blazed unseen from the next horizon lighting up their edges. Beautiful tints and subtle notes appeared in this composition of air and water and color and whatever else clouds are made of.
A lower layer, moving toward us, or perhaps the larger cloud mass was moving away, turned into gauzey pink gazelles, great snow flakes of sunset mauve floating in light, hovering, holding some miracle of vision that exists only in our eyes; ballerinas in gossamer gowns, flakes of air and stardust, spinning galaxies of no dimension, but real in the moment. The moment of our viewpoint.
They outlast us. We grow cold.
Later that evening, when we have built a good fire in the small cottage fireplace, a thing we always do in October, we see all these sights, once more, in the flames.