September solace

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(Host) Commentator Tom Slayton shares some thoughts on this anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

(Slayton) Outside the open window, it was cool and misty this morning. Although there’s nothing more than a red branch here and there, fall is definitely in the air now. After the moist, muggy heat of summer, the cool fall mornings are welcome. And, as it turned out, I was glad I had the window open. As I sat there, I heard for the first time this year the primordial baying of Canada geese, calling in flight as they headed south. “Good,” I thought. “The world still works.”

It was about this time two years ago when the human world took its sudden, sickening turn toward darkness. Where were the geese then? I can’t remember. Ann Marie came into my office. “Tom,” she said, “an airplane just crashed into the World Trade Towers!”

And suddenly nothing seemed predictable or even comprehensible: a second jet smashed into the trade towers; ugly red explosions like something out of a grade B movie; people jumping; the towers falling; New York a chaos of smoke and running people. Washington also under attack.

It went on and on. We were at war. Troops were mustered, and the Army band played military tunes on the State House lawn. The list of dead and missing mounted. It seemed unreal to me. Completely unreal. Much of it still does.

I’m not sure we’re designed to cope with such an amount of crazy violence. I still have trouble comprehending what that awful September day two years ago really meant or was. All that I am sure of is that something seems to have gone terribly wrong with this world, and I’m no longer as confident as I once was that it can be fixed.

Which is why, I guess, the sound of the geese was so welcome this morning: something in this messed-up world still works.

When I was younger, I actively hated to see the trees begin to turn. That meant the end of summer, time to go back to school. For years, the mists of autumn and the rustling leaves along the streets filled me with melancholy.

Not any more. Now I savor each of the thousands of tiny changes by which late summer gradually becomes fall. It’s probably just a function of age, but the seasons tear by so fast now that I’m hard-pressed just to keep up with them. I enjoy the cycle of changes because it has become a constant – something in a bewildering, violent world, that one can count on.

The leaves begin to turn, and mist hangs longer in the river valleys. Goldenrod and asters are blooming. Crows are banding up, yelling back and forth to one another. Soon the light itself will become thinner and clearer. And then the trees will be bare, the hills purple-grey, and we will smell woodsmoke in the air.

It will all be predictable – maybe not right on schedule, but satisfying and somehow, these days, reassuring.

Tom Slayton is editor of Vermont Life magazine.

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