Suddenly it's the end of August, and everything is different: The light has started to tilt and deepen, and the landscape has that burnished look, as if it's been drenched in honey and ripened by sun. The world seems balanced; we stand at the brink of September, at the edge of the turn of the year. But we can't linger: The year is looking at her watch and impatiently tapping her foot. "It's been a great summer," she says, "but nothing lasts forever. Time to accept the fact that summer is almost over."
I was on retreat at a Trappist monastery for a couple of days, and even though my time away felt to me (as it always does) like it was much too brief, it looks and feels as if I was out of town for a lot longer. Last week, we were still deep in summer, afloat on the thick green hammock of August, with plump heavy peaches, long hot afternoons, and big ears of Olathe sweet corn. Just a few days later, the weather is cooler, the kids are in school, and when I went to pick up my daily ration, the Corn Guys informed me—very gently because they know how dangerous corn fanatics like me can be—that this was the last week this year they would be selling corn. But don't panic, they said (because I was panicking): We'll be back next year! Besides, look, we have apples now, first of the year; don't they smell good?
Apples, I thought. And they did smell good. But my heart took a sad little tumble as I thought, it's true. It really is the beginning of the end of the summer, and the start of the start of the fall.
I'm not really complaining, because I love autumn; it might be my favorite season. Then again, I love all four seasons of the year. You will never see me retiring to Florida or Arizona: I've lived in those climates and cultures, and frankly I'd just as soon spend the rest of my life imprisoned in a mall. I am enthralled by the dance of seasons. Yes, I complain about my arthritis in winter, but I do that anyway, regardless of the weather.
Generally speaking, my only complaint about the weather in western Colorado is that there isn't enough of it. Although I can't say that's been true this year—we've had some wild thunderstorms. Why is it that we only call disasters "acts of God"? A cottonwood smashing through your roof is considered a bona fide act of You-Know-Who, but a cottonwood standing in the middle of a field, its round leaves sparkling in sunlight, is taken for granted and almost not seen. It's just a tree, and who pays attention to trees?
Maybe that's why I like the seasons so much; when they change, you can't help but notice the trees. Even winter brings its own beauty: When all the leaves are gone, you can see the unfettered shapes of the trees, the landscape simple and clean, and the beauty that lies in the bones of things. The constant changes help us see the world's bright beauty. Otherwise, we get bored and take it for granted, pulling out our mental clickers and changing the channels.
The painter Edgar Degas once said: "If the leaves of the trees did not move, how sad the trees would be, and we too." I don't think we notice the world unless it changes. I wish that weren't true, because change can be heartbreaking, as Joni Mitchell sings: "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you got till it's gone?" But we don't have to lose things in order to love them. Not if we pay attention, here and now.
Every year, I think about freezing some corn, but I never do. I think it's because I know how much I will enjoy it again next summer, after a long abstinence. Besides, the new local foods are ready to eat; not just apples, but all kinds of good things. Soon the trees will be yellow and gold, and then the fields will be white, and then another spring will come around. God holds the circle of time in big hands, and I live inside that circle, and trust it.
Diane Sylvain is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org) in Paonia, Colorado, where she lives and works for the magazine.