The Apple-Red Cliche of Autumn

THE road to autumn goes past stone walls in the tight grasp of empty vines. Late trees hold yellow near the bright emptiness of elms and maples. My family and I ride to Shartner's farm seeking late Macouns for the last good pies before winter closes the farm. We wind up hills past orchards and come to the dark barn where Indian corn hangs from beams, apples are piled in bags, pears heaped in baskets, where dark eggplant gleams next to winter squash. I buy a small pumpkin for my Alison, my girl named out of Chaucer from the melody of Middle English. I almost forget the pears. My wife, connoisseur of the Macoun, has picked the apples. The farm wife remembers me, says hello, greets my daughter. I love coming up this Massachusetts hill to buy apples and pears and breathe the open beauty of the farm.

On the way home, my daughter laughs in the eyes of the orange pumpkin. That night I set a candle in a jack o'lantern that leaps into flame and becomes magic in the music of my little girl's laughter. We slice apples, add cinnamon and tapioca. The apples, a silver red after the first frost, run with sweetness.

These are rare, idyllic days come to us carved out of air and sun and crumbling leaves. We live precariously at the end of some grand cliche but gather to us all of the color, all of the sweetness, all of the harmony before conscience discovers the theft.

Not long ago, my family had been where autumn was a rainstorm, a hesitation before the pain of heatless winters; for a year we had lived in China. Alone, I have known the tropics of Vietnam in October, my jungle fatigues so hot I knew they would light a fire. All of us are back.

I am back at Shartner's, my cynicism purged, riding to a farm with my little girl and wife, going home to bake pies and jack o'lanterns.

For tonight, the cliche prevails against the originality of suffering. Forks sound against plates, apple pie just cool enough is sweet.

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