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(“The Road to Our Friend’s Cabin” by cosprenk)
The Middle Distance, 9/10/10: “Heart of Gold” (Right-click or option-click to download, or click on the play button to stream)
Yesterday, I saw a flash of yellow. Driving beneath the canopy of trees on Cascade Avenue in the Old North End of Colorado Springs, I glanced up at the first sign of autumn — the top of a very old elm, its leaves gone from green to gold.
Now, that’s all I can see. Washing dishes this morning, gazing through the kitchen window, my eye is fixed on a neighbor’s tree two doors down, its yellow beaming across back yards. The morning chill says fall. A spot of sumac turning crimson makes my heart race.
I love the sense of expectation that comes with fall. Here in the Rocky Mountain West we know it will come fast and will be over just as quickly. But for its brief duration, autumn will thrill us.
This has been a year of prolonged summer for me — I planted a garden in south Texas in late February and harvested tomatoes at the end of May, then moved to Colorado just in time for an unusually verdant June, July, and August.
September slipped in beneath the radar of sensory awareness — afternoons were too hot, grasses still green — but now autumn whispers its name and there’s no turning back. The asters and chrysanthemums know it. So do the apple trees, burdened with fruit.
George Eliot called it “Delicious Autumn!”
“My very soul is wedded to it,” she said, “and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”
My three sons were all born in autumn and celebrated their childhood birthdays on crisp September and October afternoons beneath falling leaves. One year, a group of my daughter’s high school friends, budding installation artists, swiped a giant pumpkin and left it in our yard, a pumpkin as big as a chair, so big that when my boys climbed atop it and straddled it, their feet dangled high above the ground.
If I could swoop and hover over one autumn day, it would be a wet one in Tennessee, late October, nearly forty years ago. I could feel my life changing that year along with the weather. I had discovered Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, and I was in love with lyrics and beautiful fictional people, and a real live boy. I’d just started hanging out with him and a group of his friends, intellectuals with a bohemian bent. They were talented at creative escape from the drudgery of high school.
On this gray October morning, they had organized a sunrise breakfast picnic in a field just east of the city. We parked on the highway and hiked in, my boyfriend with his bushy, brown hair and tan corduroy jeans, and I dressed too skimpily to stave off the wet cold of the tall, dew drenched grass.
As we crossed the meadow we could hear our friends’ voices and the faint twang of a guitar. We raced a little and came to the edge of a creek bed and a log crossing about six feet above the rocky stream. Our friends were in a clearing on the other side. My boyfriend crossed over first, then turned and reached out his hand to me.
I stepped onto the log and began to cross. About halfway over, the slick bottoms of my black Converse hightops swished across a spot of moss and I slipped backward. The fall has disappeared from memory, but I remember the moment after, lying on my back in clear, cold water, the breath knocked out of me. I remember my boyfriend and some other kids pulling me up the muddy bank and wrapping me in a blanket.
I remember the smell of the small fire they put me next to, smoke billowing from dampened wood. My breath returned. Sunlight bored through the morning mist. We sipped bitter coffee from chipped metal cups. A boy named Rick sang a Neil Young tune. I want to live/ I want to give/ I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold.
It may not have happened exactly that way, but that is how I remember it. It was autumn, a fleeting moment of adventure and beauty at the edge of time. We crossed a golden meadow, and in a flash, forty years passed. And now autumn has come again, delicious autumn.
Kathryn Eastburn’s column “The Middle Distance” can be read and heard every Friday on The Big Something. It can be heard on KRCC every Saturday right after This American Life at 1 p.m.
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