(Host) During the long month of August, summer can seem almost without end. The memory of winter has receded just enough that we can trick ourselves into thinking that time is suspended. Then comes a cold night that puts the furnace or the wood stove to work, and the first color in the trees. It reminds us that not only is summer passing, but so are they days we’re given to mark the seasons’ changing. Here’s a reflection on autumn in Vermont and time’s passage by writer Howard Coffin.
(Coffin) It was a fair summer for blackberries; the corn, not so good; apples – not bad. Now as the harvest rolls in it is time to celebrate, say goodbye, to another Vermont summer. The drooping garden, the lowery sky, all tell me Vermont’s most powerful time has come to touch the land. The ghosts are back.
This is the season when the past rises from this old soil and touches us. I stroll again the land I once walked with my grandfather, and he, white haired and happy, is almost beside me as I come down through the horse pasture, by the spring house, along the trace of a cow path to the stone foundation where his barn stood. My grandmother seems beside me again, traipsing toward the village, “going overstreet” as she said, shopping basket on her arm, talking of the flowers with their yellowing leaves that she passes. I almost catch a glimpse of my mother in the kitchen of the old house, almost hear her singing as she cooks chicken, biscuits and gravy for supper. Through the haunting light of early evening I almost see my father walking home, up the curving driveway, newspaper under an arm.
Rounding a corner the sight of a silver gray barn beside a sagging farmhouse triggers, again, that wonderful heartfelt feeling of something long ago.
This is Vermont’s time of the year, clouds advancing, line on mighty bluish-gray line that will not be turned back, marching in over the Green Mountains. I want to walk in graveyards, where the bright flags placed there in May are fading like morning stars. I want to visit cellar holes and falling down barns. At evening I prowl village streets and stand by porches where the people of my childhood, sweaters on, out of doors for one more precious evening, chat with passing friends in the glow of streetlights.
Sometimes, I must admit, as night deepens, my thoughts dwell a bit too much on endings. Yet, coming home after dark, the house never feels so warm, so welcoming. For every thing, indeed, there is a season, and mine, like this Vermont year, is getting rather well along.
It is time again to listen for a sound like distant conversation that lifts my eyes to a southbound flock of geese. I am ready to sniff a smoldering pile of brittle leaves, the aroma of wood smoke climbing from a brick chimney through slanting light. Never is Vermont so unique a thing as in early autumn, when the turning comes, when a summer packs to go, and nature begins its long preparing for the snows.
Howard Coffin is an author and historian who’s specialty is the civil war.