Yet hints come to me from the realm unknown;
Airs drift across the twilight border land,
…whispers to my heart are blown
That fill me with a joy I cannot speak
—George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul
I’ll come right out and say it—I have a love-hate relationship with fall.
I know, I know—I have friends for whom autumn is their most favorite time of year. They text me photos of leaves and trees in glorious colors. They break out their sweaters with relish, like the best thing in the world is about to unfold. I get it—it’s a gorgeous time of year.
And I do love the cottonwoods turning golden along the rivers. I love the crisp mornings and surprisingly warm days, the air clear as a diamond, the aromas of the earth itself like bread in the oven.
Nature bursting into flame like a thousand burning bushes.
But I know that in fact nature is flaming out, like Icarus, who fell from the sky like a falling leaf. Does this bother anybody else? The glory is so fleeting; it never, ever stays.
That is the part I have had to come to terms with—the loss—feeling towards it the same emotions I have towards Robert Frost’s poem Nothing Gold Can Stay:
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
He is of course referring to spring, but with all respect to Mr. Frost I’d like to point out that nature’s last green is gold as well—a gold that also fades away. Too soon the glories will all be gone, dead leaves in the gutter, frozen earth, barren trees, and winter will descend.
What are we supposed to do with fall?
I mean, other than take long walks, head to the fields for cider and apple-picking, grab the 20 gauge and go in search of pheasant. What are we supposed to do with piercing beauty that haunts with its stunning brilliance—then drops away before you can fully take it in?
If all nature is a kind of tutor, what then is the lesson of the sudden, shimmering, ephemeral glory of fall?
Which brings me back to the poem. I’ve had a profound ambivalence toward it for many years, since about the time my best friend was killed in a climbing accident. Brent loved this poem, knew it by heart. He knew it held a secret—like autumn holds a secret—and what he believed was that fall is whispering the same story sunrise and sunset tell every day: the glory will return. To stay.
Which of course would change everything.
A few weeks ago Stasi and I were walking in an aspen grove. The ground was covered with a thousand golden leaves, heart-shaped, a whimsical mosaic of exquisite sun-colored beauty. “If this is something of what it means to have streets of gold, then I’m good with that. It will be wonderful!” she said.
I am slowly, finally, reconciling to fall.
If the message is not glory-then-loss, but glory-that-is-about-to-come-forever, my heart can accept that. I can allow the piercing beauty because I see in it a promise, captured in the last lines of George MacDonald’s Phantastes:
A great good is coming, is coming, is coming to thee.