The sun had already set. The sound of geese calling drew me to the window. I pressed my forehead against the cold glass and peered into the black night sky. I couldn't see them, but I could hear their voices trailing off into the distance.
"How are they able to find their way through the darkness? How do they find their way home?
A lone candle burned low upon my table top. The flame sputtered and sought a final golden moment before collapsing into the night. I was in total darkness, and for the briefest of moments there was Silence, and I could hear the world as it was meant to be.
For me, autumn is usually such a chaotic, fickle season with it's roaring winds, shattering cold mist, mild rains, sleet, endless blue skies, deep gray skies, bright warm sunny days, and the occasional snowflake or three. This year, summer tripped and stumbled into fall. So many of my friends and neighbours shook their heads saying, "I really wasn't prepared for this." They pulled their coats around themselves, just a little bit tighter.
Such a funny thing to say. Autumn visits here every year without fail, and yet so many of us are unprepared. We want to cling to that little extra daylight as long as possible. For so many people, the fall brings melancholy thoughts and the feeling we are running out of time.
For others, it is absolutely the opposite. They embrace autumn like a long lost friend. They see the fall as a time to become more peaceful and productive. Right now, autumn is twisting my heart like sheets in the wind. I don't know if I am coming or going. I do not live in a place that feels like home, and I feel as though I am running a marathon yet not moving forward. I want to find that exquisite moment of silence that enveloped me the night I heard the geese. I want a little bit of that peace and learn how to recognize autumn as a friend, not a foe. I adored autumn when I was a child. I want to remember why autumn made me happy, not blue.
It's amazing how certain sounds and smells can bring back memories that you think were long forgotten. A swirl of crows cawing and dipping in the brisk wind brought back a flood of autumn memories that made me smile.
1) CROWS - When I was about 14 years old I briefly got lost in the forest behind my house. I was having an angsty day, as teenagers are wont to do, and decided to take my glowering face and feelings out for a walk. Because I was grumbling and looking at my feet while venturing, I found myself turned around in a part of the woods with which I was unfamiliar. The air was crisp and the forest floor was littered with leaves that crunched underfoot. I had come to the edge of a deep valley. There I sat to gather my bearings and my thoughts.
The crows arrived.
At first there was two, three, then fifty and suddenly an uncountable amount of raucous birds landing in the trees around me. A cacophony of sound and a tumult of wings swirled and dipped above me, around me, and into the valley below.
The crows were pure, explosive joy. They clamoured and preened, dive-bombed and shook the maple branches so heartily that cascades of golden leaves spun and twirled to the ground, covering my head and shoulders.
After one final outburst of noise they were gone, hundreds and hundreds of birds flying off to destinations unknown.
I thought my heart would burst. I wanted to BE that autumn joy.
I safely found my way home with my chin up, a new set of eyes, and a fresh attitude.
How could I have forgotten my "Valley of the Crows"? There is such innocent happiness in that memory.
2) SOUP - Another memory danced into my mind as I was writing this post. It was the memory of hot soup on a chilly fall day. When I was in first grade I lived in Edmonton, Alberta and walked home for lunch every day. The tip of my nose would be freezing, my fingertips blue, and my cheeks bright red from the wind. Shivering, I would count my steps from the school to my front door to remind myself I was almost home. My mother would greet me with a warm hug and a hot lunch of tomato soup and saltine crackers. I asked for this meal every day for weeks.
In my mind, the colour of love was the colour of tomato soup in a bright yellow bowl.
Fast forward to me at the age of 19. I was a poor art student living in Toronto. Fall in the city was the colour of concrete, grey skies, and hot and sour soup. Every Friday after class, I would wrap my coat around me and would wind my way through the old neighbourhoods to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant with dirty windows and a faded cardboard sign.
There was a fish tank near the door, so green and thick with algae, I doubt that any fish had lived in it for years. Instead of a menu, yellowed Polaroid photos of food were pinned to a dusty cork board near the counter. The restaurant only had one soup on offer, hot and sour soup. I knew for $1.00, I could buy myself an oversized bowl of liquid heaven. For under $5.00, the elderly owner would send me home with a huge bucket. I would carry that bucket against my chest and it would warm me until I got to my apartment.
The end of autumn that year was particularly cold and the bitter skies were threatening snow. I arrived at the restaurant as per usual but this time the cardboard square in the window was missing. In its stead was a "For Sale" sign. The owner greeted me and brought me my regular bowl of soup. When I was finished eating, he came to my table with our soup bucket (the one I washed and returned weekly), and refused my money. He pulled a folded picture out of the pocket of his apron and excitedly showed me. The image was that of a tropical beach, somewhere in the world. He tapped the photo, and then beaming, tapped himself on the chest. His face grew serious for a moment, and then he bowed deeply. I returned his bow, and we both burst out laughing. He handed me the soup bucket and I was on my way.
I hoped the old man would find peace and contentment on that sunny beach. Happiness for me that day was a bucket of hot and sour soup that warmed my hands and heart all the way home.
3) PILLOW AND BLANKET FORTS - I stood on my balcony this morning, listening to the crows while my breath wreathed around my face. I knew it was time to pull the wool blankets and quilts out of the old bedding trunk. The smell of cedar tucked into the fabric ignited a memory of an autumn long ago.
I must have been quite young as I remember I was wearing a flannel nightgown and big woolly socks. My family had moved into an old house in a small town somewhere in Ontario. I felt lucky because I was given the attic bedroom. In my imagination, attics were liminal spaces, portals that opened to magical worlds.
In the fall, pigeons would nestle together on my window ledge, their cooing and jostling waking me up at dawn. My bare feet were cold as I tiptoed across the wooden floorboards (my socks having slipped off some time in the night, hidden under the heavy duvet). I would sit and watch the pigeons and then breathe on the window, startling the birds in the process. I would make up names for them and write with my finger on the steamy glass. Names like, "Freckles, Luna, Grey Boy, Sparkles and Mike." Mike the pigeon. He looked like his name.
On weekends, when the house was dark and quiet, I would quietly open and raid the big old cedar trunk that squatted at the foot of my bed. I would make a blanket hideaway, bolstered with pillows and heavy wool blankets. I would fortify myself with goodies like sponge toffee, Rockets, and black liquorice. A flashlight was a must. And books! I was warm in my dark quilt cave surrounded by friends like Nancy Drew, Aslan the Lion, James Herriot and Fiver the rabbit. I learned that magic truly lives in autumn-built blanket forts.
Isn't it interesting how fond childhood memories can change your outlook if you just open your heart? There's a big book out there somewhere that tells us that, if we want to grow, we must put aside childish things. In this case, I have to disagree. I grew up and grew tired of autumn and complained like many others instead of seeing the beauty that is there for us to embrace with delight. Sometimes we need to see the world through the eyes of a child.
My dear Wild Ones, do you have any autumn memories that make your heart sing? How do you welcome the changing seasons? Please leave a comment below when you have a chance. I would love to hear from you! In the meantime, I am off to find a good book and build a blanket fort.