Autumn slips into place without a sound. One leaf, then another changes color. At first glance, I wonder, is that tree diseased? On succeeding days, the contagion spreads to an entire stem, then a branch. Silently, the season tattoos foliage with melancholy.
Autumn slips forward with the quiet magic of chemistry. Daylight declines and temperatures cool. The mask of chlorophyll falls away. Underlying pigments in the leaf reveal themselves. They blend to create brilliant yellow and red hues along with deep multi-shaded browns.
Autumn slips in under the cover of summer’s forest fires. It infiltrates the canopy of deciduous trees while smoke filled skies distract our attention. The sun’s glow softens, diffused by the particulate in the air. It gilds the horizons with glamour and a tule fog of tragedy besmirches the streets in town.
The scenic Columbia River Gorge burns with ferocity this year. The fire, fueled by dry timber and strong wind, leapt from 4,000 acres to 33,000 acres in the first five days of September. I grieve for the destruction of forest land. The reckless behavior of a few hikers ruined habitat and caused the death of a multitude of small animals.
Initially, the fire headed west. Then, the wind shifted. It grew at a deliberate pace, headed our way. The wind shifted once more. This turned the blaze back upon itself. The fire continues but its growth slows. Weather forecasts are favorable.
Nonetheless, no matter where we are, no matter how well we order our lives, no matter how best we prepare for the good and bad, something is always headed our way. The fury of hurricanes in Texas and Florida, and the Eagle Creek fire in Oregon made for a hellish beginning to autumn. These are American catastrophes. Elsewhere, however, destructive incidents persist: famine, disease, wars in Syria and Myanmar. All this, plus the inconvenience of global warming.
Autumn slips forward and quietly changes everything. Solace resides in the machinations of the natural world. The routine, the inevitability of seasonal change occurs in spite of our behavior. There is winter inherent in fall’s splendor; the rebirth and growth of spring awaits in the bitter dormancy of January. An underlying balance exists. Harmony surrounds us. Yet we seem at odds with the process. We interfere and, like a serious illness, we threaten the host which supports us.
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