Our summer up here in Maine was as perfect as perfect can be: long, languid days of heat and sunshine, punctuated by only occasional rain, which usually fell at night.
The result, for me, was that I was lulled into a sense that this delight could go on forever, that Maine had become stalled in the most pleasant of seasons. Once a place reputed for its forbidding cold and snow, it had been transformed by some legerdemain into a northern Florida.
Foolish thought. If there were ever any doubt about Maine's true heart being a cold one, it was quashed in the closing days of September with the advent of crisp, clear mornings and evenings; brisker winds; low, roaming clouds; and persistent, though gracious rains.
I do not resent autumn's policy of shutting down the summer party for which we always long so intensely in these parts. In fact, the general consensus is that it is the fall, and not summer, that portrays Maine in its best light. Picture white clapboard houses framed in the fire of sugar maples; surging rivers foaming white against their dark banks; the boughs of apple trees drooping with fruit; and the bright orange globes of pumpkins stacked on front lawns.
But there is one thing about autumn I do try to resist: the speed it engenders. I enjoy living in slow motion, which is why I came to Maine in the first place. The very idea of moving fast – hopping to, hurrying up, stepping lively – does not sit well with me.
But autumn wants to leave me no choice.
Where summer preaches the status quo, autumn's byword is change.
If it is merciful, this successor season to summer gives me a chance to adjust. I can deal with the gradual cooling of days, the slow fading of flowers, the tenacious hold that tomatoes have on their vines (even as their leaves crinkle up). It is a small thing to put on a sweater, or light the first (softwood) fire in the wood stove, or embrace a cup of tea with both hands to dissipate the cold in my fingertips.
But it is the fast changes that unnerve me. Why does the wind have to suddenly kick up like an army mule, literally tearing leaves from the big basswood in the front yard before they were ready to let go?
Why does a mild, sunny morning have to give way to an afternoon gale of horizontal rain that leaks through the skylights, so that I have to commandeer every pot and pan in the house to collect the cascade?
Why does a warm evening have to yield to a morning cold enough to coat the grass with hoarfrost and make it crackle under my feet?
And last, why must the forest, which so recently kept its secrets behind a dense leaf cover, suddenly have to be rendered desolate and transparent by an autumn storm, revealing a broken-down tractor, a brick pile, and the smokestacks of a factory long ago fallen silent?
I don't mean to sound like a curmudgeon. I'm not. I like the fall. I welcome it. I wouldn't cancel or forestall it if I could. All I ask is moderation of both pace and effect.
I might add that I am not alone in these thoughts. Robert Frost, in his poem "October," wrote:
Beguile us in the way you know;
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away....
What bothers me most is how a fast, insistent autumn influences the activities of the people around me.
The slow summer walkers of my neighborhood now proceed briskly along their way, their arms pumping furiously.
The man down the road chain saws (and saws and saws) wood with the desperation of someone building a boat as the waters rise around him.
Squadrons of shirtless roofers pound away all over town, their biceps swelling by the day. I watch as they scurry up and down ladders with thick, floppy squares of asphalt shingles that will grow hot under their hands.
Everywhere I look, people are stacking, storing, piling, and preparing. And they are doing it at speeds that make me, the observer, dizzy.
And so, on this bright autumn morning with its cool yet tolerable breeze, I carefully pull on my mud boots and languorously slip into a fleecepullover.
I sip the last of my hot chocolate and leisurely walk 65 paces down to the riverbank, counting every step.
Then, seizing a paddle, I slip into my canoe and ever-so-gently push off into the current.
If autumn wants to carry me away with gusto, let it. But with my eyes closed, I choose to savor it in my own slow way.