That Autumn Restless Feeling

October 25, 2008

Perhaps you feel autumn-restless too? It's like we're collectively waiting to exhale. Everyone seems a little edgy, distracted by economic anxiety and uncertainties of the coming elections. It's always that way in late autumn – even more so in election years. Stock markets traditionally don't like October.

Outside, a beautiful and impassive rural landscape offers a perfect antidote. A brisk walk, kicking through fallen leaves releases spicy-cinnamon scents to help re-set your inner clock. The sun and moon pay little heed to financial markets, political campaigns and clocks. There is comfort in that.

Fall foliage season was postcard perfect this year (note past tense). After the riotous colorful leaves fall, there's a month I often dread: no warmth, no sun, no leaves: November. The certainty of cold, gun-metal-blue or gray rainy days makes for a month of interminable waiting as the nights grow ever-longer.

This year, I'm actually looking forward to November as a time to indulge in extra helpings of comfort food and extra sleep. Rainy, cold Sunday mornings in late autumn are best spent in languid reading of newspapers and listening to jazz with strong coffee with no pressing chores or deadlines. An afternoon bowl of spicy-hot chili with melted cheese and crumbled crackers or a hearty beef stew should be followed by a nap on the couch. November might not be so bad after all.

The not-too-bitter-end of baseball in Red Sox Nation and lower expectations of a playoff berth for the Patriots have those traditional autumn diversions fading as quickly as fallen leaves lying un-raked in the yard. My unconventional excuse to seek the warmth of quilt and couch during the newly-arrived "nesting season" is the prospect of early light snow before too long.

Last weekend I was up to Pittsburg at the Forest Society's new Washburn Family Forest located along six miles of the Connecticut River. It was opening day of moose season along famed "moose alley" where the hardwood trees are now bare. Canada geese were migrating high overhead in the moonlight, their calls faint in the cold night air. First Connecticut Lake was steaming and thick fog shrouded the Connecticut River valley at dawn. The whole North Country seemed quietly withheld, ready, awaiting the inevitable first snowfall. The earliest snowfall – no matter how faint or ephemeral – follows a "first one is free" marketing scheme. The first warning shot across our bow often melts away quickly with no plowing or shoveling required. It's not so much sinister as it is beautiful.

Window sashes frame a Japanese landscape painting where dripping, melting snow clings to leaves and lightly frosts dark boughs of hemlocks growing along an icy brook. The first snowfall is best admired for its stark beauty: innocent adolescent winter. Snow flakes mix with cold rain and magically frost distant mountaintops. Snow appears on lawns overnight and disappears with the darkness at sunrise. It isn't a real snowfall – not the kind that lingers in dark hemlock hollows on north-facing slopes to slowly thicken until March. First snow is always startling in its sudden appearance. Yet it is perfectly predictable. The first dusting of snow usually arrives in late October or early November – give or take a few weeks each year.

At the summit of Mount Sunapee last Wednesday, a trace of snow made its first, faint and tentative appearance. The first snow appearing under motionless, empty chairs suspended along a lift line will makes expectant skiers smile. My friends, change is indeed coming… and it has nothing to do with elections.