Wednesday, November 11, 2009


     You cannot yet say that the year is ending; there is a lot of life yet outside in the fields and meadows; the goats and cows are grazing hurriedly before they are locked away in the barn to impersonate the manger in Bethlehem; the white campion are still blooming, the Virgin Mary's tears, the ragwort still glitters of gold, and the cinquefoil is still of a mind to flower. As far as the ground is concerned, that is all prepared; it is all turned, plowed, and softened, and now takes in moisture and air, scents and aeration, sighing and disappearing into the loose topsoil. The morel still drips in the woods, the golden chanterelles slowly dry, white mushrooms draw unnameable fairy rings on the forest floor, and there are flushed old men everywhere hewing wood, collecting it, and tossing the fragrant firewood onto carts. Surprisingly, there are even more animals than during the summer; clusters of partridges whirr out of every furrow, the hare weaves through the woods, the wings of the grouse beat heavily, and the white tails of the deer gleam in forest clearings. So, as I have said, there is still enough life to it, but sooner than anyone expects it is gloomy twilight, lights glittering here and there, and an unaccustomed orphanhood settles over the world; a wagonload slowly scrapes towards the village and a lone man heads somewhere rapidly and silently, his hands in his pockets. The year is not ending, but the days are.


     It is a futile splendor; autumn is dark, but even so it is still well-outfitted. Were that not the case, the last colors of autumn could not blaze so pathetically; the crimson of the dogrose, and the rich red of the bunchberries, and the scarlet of the tops of the cherry trees, the dark yellow of the larch and the firm golden color of the fallen chestnut trees (look, the dark brown of the chestnuts themselves are peeking out from their ruptured cases). And without the darkness, the proper and most glorious light of autumn would not shine out so strongly; the light in the windows at home.

     It is said that nature lays itself down to sleep in the autumn. This nears the truth, but it lays itself down to sleep the way we do, dragging its feet, undressing itself with lackadaisical enjoyment, still of a mind to talk about what happened today and what will happen tomorrow, and before it falls asleep, it intermingles memories of time gone by with plans for the coming day. The summer foliage has not yet fallen, and the hard heads of next spring's buds already stud the twigs and branches. And now we can go to sleep, for even sleep is forward motion.


     Through all of this, I have saved for the last the true annual breakthrough of autumn. It is the discovery of one's own down blankets. It is the annual return to bed. You never sleep more gratefully and toss and turn less than when the days are short. All poets laud things, but I don't know if any one them would sing the praises of an ordinary warm bed instead of the bust and heavenly phenomena. Enough already has been written about dreams, but who as yet described the smooth comfort of the pillow and the faithful cupped hand of the groove underneath us as we sleep? Let us therefore add praise of human bedding to the praises of autumn, whether it be good for the sleeper, gentle for the infirm or strengthening for the weary; and may the hare find a good oven, the stag a dry hollow, and the sparrow a good nest under the eaves, amen.



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