Jack the Dog and I took a very long walk this morning. I was in unfamiliar territory geographically, and not used to walking a dog, either. It may have been my first time! When I was young we had dogs but they walked and ran themselves, all over the countryside where there was no leash law.
This week I am in Davis, in California’s Central Valley, staying with grandchildren while Pearl and Nate are on a celebratory trip. It’s Fall — wind blows, rain falls, the colors are spectacular. If I hadn’t had a dog straining at the leash on my arm, I’d have wanted to take dozens of pictures of the trees with their strong and curvy trunks and varied foliage, standing against the washed sky. Especially two olives in one front yard, old and thick. So many species of pines and and other conifers, freshly cleaned after yesterday’s gale, of every loose needle and speck of dust…. Oh, I so appreciate the trees!
The breeze was sharp when we set out this morning, after dropping the children off at school. I decided to walk longer than 20 minutes, and it ended up an hour. The perfect day for it, even if we both were dragging before we got home.
This poem (which happens to mention a dog like Jack!) expresses the familiarity of these fallish changes, and the way they come at us. The “bruised clouds” remind me of how when we came home from church Sunday the storm had passed but clouds remained, morphing from deep to pale gray and lavender; the light was changing every minute, and I kept taking an ever new picture through the window, of the lemon tree (not falling) against the dark sky, with sunlight breaking through from another place. “The changing light of fall falling on us.”
Fall, falling, fallen. That’s the way the season
Changes its tense in the long-haired maples
That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves
Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition
With the final remaining cardinals) and then
Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last
Settling into colorful layers carpeting the ground.
At twilight the light, too, is layered in the trees
In a season of odd, dusky congruences—a scarlet tanager
And the odor of burning leaves, a golden retriever
Loping down the center of a wide street and the sun
Setting behind smoke-filled trees in the distance,
A gap opening up in the treetops and a bruised cloud
Blamelessly filling the space with purples. Everything
Changes and moves in the split second between summer’s
Sprawling past and winter’s hard revision, one moment
Pulling out of the station according to schedule,
Another moment arriving on the next platform. It
Happens almost like clockwork: the leaves drift away
From their branches and gather slowly at our feet,
Sliding over our ankles, and the season begins moving
Around us even as its colorful weather moves us,
Even as it pulls us into its dusty, twilit pockets.
And every year there is a brief, startling moment
When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and
Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless
Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air:
It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies;
It is the changing light of fall falling on us.