It has been raining steadily since early this morning, and it’s in the mid-fifties today, going toward sixty or more by Tuesday. This reminds me of the rainy days when I was a child and I’d lay on the den floor and watch old black and white westerns all afternoon. I enjoyed seeing the blazing western Sun and the sweat on the cowboys’ foreheads all the while our yard swelled from hours of torrents.
Like today. The leaves are somewhere between summer and winter, with carpets of amber and red running the length of the driveway and all along the Aerie trails. Even the porch, which has remained dry because of no winds today, has scatterings of leaves right up to the log walls and on the furniture. The river is calm, and a slow endless hum of rain on the surface is both peaceful and somewhat melancholy. Sometimes when the riverfront is barren and the mist rises from the storm, I can hear some faint call of kids on innertubes, or the distant grind of a jet ski passing out toward Parrot Island. It reminds me of those beach sounds when I was young, on the Great South Bay or at Point Lookout on the Atlantic, and some music drifts from the blankets of other family’s, and the low murmur of adults talking about some trip to the city while kids yell from the surf break. Those sounds are my life’s soundtrack; they are embedded in me as much as the sound of my own voice. Sometimes some nearby transistor radio would toss over Ralph Kiner’s voice announcing a Mets’ game, and I’d tune into that while laying on my stomach on the blanket.
But today’s connection is the rain and how it sounded on the awning in Massapequa, or how it sounded in the trees of Heckscher when Eddie and I would wander the trails not minding being soaking wet, not minding the ebbing of the days of summer and fall.
That was then.
Now, the rain comes in steady streams then lightens up, then heavy again, but never stopping; not today. Outside my office window here across the driveway is nothing but woods for quite some distance, and if I look out long enough I can usually see deer, even in the rain, and opossum. At night in the flood of the porch light I can see the fox at the edge of the woods nosing her way in wet leaves looking for apple cores I leave out. She will eat a few, then she will mouth a few to bring to her kits. I have never seen her den, but I imagine it is not far and is fairly dry—or at least protected from the weather.
Today I did nothing. Earlier, I caught up on writing classes and finished an article for a deadline and then organized the area around this desk, but once that was done by late morning, I did nothing. Today is the day I decided to undo myself, neatly put my pieces spread out on the floor, clean off each one slowly, clear out the buildup from years of neglect, and then carefully put myself back together. So the rain is good—it is cleansing, it is like some late autumn baptism.
Once classes are done and the leaves have fallen and the cold air comes on, undoubtably taking me by surprise again, I will clear the leaves off the driveway, clear the paths by raking the leaves into the woods, and get the firewood ready for winter. The house is well-heated, but I like fires in the stone fireplace. It feels safe, though I’m not sure why since I never really feel threatened by anything. Still, there seems to be a difference between not feeling any threat and feeling “safe.” I know at least one person knows exactly what I mean.
In 1981 or ’82, a friend of mine and I took a van to Rochester from college to pick up a piano he bought for his campus apartment. He worked for the university. On the way home we stopped at Letchworth State Park and hiked for a while, then we stood next to the stone wall which overlooks some waterfalls. It was autumn, and the leaves were at their peak. It was like standing in a state of Grace; it was like stopping time and all civilization could breathe better. We talked about music and other normal early-twenty-year-old conversations, and then after some time of quiet, he said, “You ever think about how every year we pass the exact moment we will die?” I stared at him a minute and said, well, to be honest, no—it never crossed my mind—until then. He laughed and added, “I don’t mean that in a morbid way, but if someone died on November 10th at 11:12 am, then every year before his death he passed that tragic moment not knowing its significance.”
I made some jokes about morbidity and how he managed to bring down what had been a really good moment, and we laughed for a long time. We even sat in the back of the van and played the piano and sang while a few other tourists stood by and listened. It was a good day. Before we drove off, he said, “I guess it’s just that sometimes I wonder how many autumns I have left. Probably a lot, sixty or so maybe. But who knows.”
That was exactly forty years ago, and I’m glad to say he is still with us, though we lost touch a long time ago. But we’re both in our sixties now, and we are closer to 100 years old than we are that afternoon. So there aren’t a lot of fall days left to enjoy this suspension of seasons; this literal “change” of nature.
And so I too have decided to change. I need—must—let the old ways slip off and fall away and gather at my feet before I continue this pilgrimage. No doubt it has been beautiful—in the big picture I have had one hell of a string of seasons in my life. But it seems like a fine time to go dormant and get back in touch with my roots a bit, understand again where I was going to begin with.
The rain stopped about two paragraphs ago. It is dark grey still, and the moment of what would have been a sunset if not for the grey skies has passed, so it is getting dark. I’ll put the porch lights on soon and look for the fox, most certainly I’ll see some opossum. I’ll sit on the porch a while and have some tea and for a little while I’ll notice how beautiful the fallen leaves are having served their purpose, having made way for the new leaves to come.