So We Beat On, Boats Against The Current

It’s the middle of September, kids are back in school, I’m well into teaching the second essay of the semester and reminded everyone of the Fall break; along the docks in Deltaville, some folks are already taking their boats out of the water while I met one couple from Germany who are already scouting marinas to pull in for the winter. Football is underway, baseball is winding down, and I received the annual European Deli Christmas catalogue filled with beautiful tins loaded with German chocolates. Autumn arrives in ten days, and to mark the change, at least for me here along the river, most of the osprey have already left for South America, I’ve seen a couple of eagles return, and last night a few flocks of geese arrived, settling in the duck pond since the corn and soybean have yet to be harvested.

I can relate to Jay Gatsby: “Summer is almost gone. Makes you want to reach out and hold it back.” I used to resist leaving summer with all my mental energy I could summon. I often thought I should, at the first sign of a falling leaf, hightail it to Monserrat or St. Croix.

The irony of my life is I have thrived on change and various experiences for four decades, and yet I don’t really do well at all with change, in particular, seasonal. Spring into Summer isn’t so bad since there’s something about Summer that calls to me. I like listening to baseball on the radio, swimming in the ocean while I can hear kids calling to each other, playing games, and music drifting down from beach blankets, salt water, waves. Winter to Spring is beautiful; I start thinking about planting here at Aerie, flowers and vegetables; I look forward to the buds and new growth, the return of so much wildlife. Dead of Winter, however, the post-holiday time, can be a bear. Fall is an odd combination of perfect weather and scenery which I’ve always loved, especially when I lived in New England and western New York, but it carries the slow erosion of life, the increased layers of clothes make me realize I need to “protect” myself against nature instead of experience her. I am not a fan of Autumn almost as much as I love it.

Also, my fourth quarter has started. I wish that I could slow the whole thing down.

It was dusk, the western sky almost purple in its last moment of a long day, and I could hear the geese before they came into sight over the trees, a few dozen of them. I stood still watching them pass directly above then bank to the northeast ever so slightly when they saw the unplowed field, and I could see them settle beyond the eastern tree line to a pond which runs a ways along the river. Yes, it is autumn. Soon the field will be harvested and they will settle there, hundreds of them, sometimes thousands.

And yet, as a college professor for thirty some odd years, this is the time of beginnings, of starting over and “having another shot at it.” Everything takes on a tinge of newness, from young students with wide eyes wondering where their next class is, to throwing out last semester’s lessons that didn’t work well and replacing them with new ideas, new approaches. I just completed the final page proofs of a book that comes out in Spring, which will help pull me through winter with anticipation and excitement. The seasons’ relevance is directly tied to our lives and how we live them. I could see the geese and realize it won’t be long before I don’t need to mow the lawn or weed, before the dormant trees allow me to see more sky, and the bugs, well, the bugs are simply gone, thank God.

That’s called “spin,” by the way. I’ve mastered the art of spin.

So let’s be blunt. I love autumn, but I’ve grown weary of the passing of time, or, better said, how I spend the passing of time. I was good at it during my second quarter, and to a lesser degree, the third quarter. So with one quarter left and having the experience of 244 seasons, I’ve changed my game plan. I’m not resisting the change as much as riding it like the geese who catch a draft from the west and glide for miles to the pond, not pushing back once, not needing to push back even one time.

If things aren’t going well, whether from this crazy world we’re renting for a while or from some internal misfire, I remember Neil Diamond: “I’ve been this way before and I’m sure to be this way again.” And I remember my plans to travel and experience: Ohio. Florida. Utah. Russia again. Perhaps Prague.

And most notably, the river, right here, where the water is still warm but not for long, and if we push out and paddle upstream into some of the inlets, we can see the changing wildlife, the flocks of starlings and the rafts of ducks most common once summer’s lease has expired.

And when it sometimes becomes a bit too much to bear, I’ll remember the words of Nick Calloway: “There’ll be other summers.”

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