Note: Today was a perfect fall day. I remembered this a short piece of prose I composed two years ago about the time I first finished reading Proust's great novel. It inspired me to wax poetic about an event that is not made up at all. I took a Friday off from work. I had the afternoon and the land to myself. It was a gorgoues, sunny cloud-free day. This happened.
After lunch I stepped out into the open carport. There was a shifting breeze, slightly gusting at times, mid-November, little fall color left. Two weeks past the peak, the remaining reds, burnt oranges, yellows, and golden browns clung to the reaching hardwood’s branched appendages, increasingly subdued.
With the changing season the tall pines that once mastered the sky returned to rule all the greens of the coming winter. I found myself on the carport with the potting bench, the grill, and the Cadillac, my house with near gardens neglected. Pastures and abrupt, thick forest and brush surrounded my place. Through streambeds and shallow ponds, dried with the worst drought the land had known in 100 years, everything struggled. Yet out of that rough intercourse there emerged a marvelous collection of strained color dotting the woods, a sweeping, natural impressionism.
It was a mostly cloudy day. Thick white deformations gave way to dark impenetrable spheres of defused wetness floating past in the breeze of the sky so close to the ground that their damp embodiment might rumble, yet they were silently adrift. After my brief admiration of the color of the day as I stood in the shade of the carport the sun suddenly burst through and proclaimed the world bright and grand.
To my right, the east, the sound of crows caught my attention. Five were perched in their own judgment of the day on tips of extended dead branches frozen in time. Their bodies black crowned the dull, grey skeleton of a once reaching southern red oak struck by lightning in a now much desired thunderstorm from three springs ago. Haphazardly cawing seemingly off-handed criticisms, they towered now, an isolated grouping where once thousands of living leaves had adorned. I studied them against the sky. Two flew away.
The breeze eased to nothing, a stillness upon the place caught my attention and seemed to make this my moment. I let go of creating a lifeworld where my insights on the writer but not the thinker were preferred. It was Now. Me. This.
Other birds were about but I was attracted to a spot on my carport where the distorted frame shadow of the roof met in a point on my graveled driveway. Beyond there was nothing but woods mulching the ground around their bases, hopeful of the next precious rain, in the snow-like fall of their leaves and the breeze, sun brightly ablaze.
On that spot, my body exposed to the sun, I broadened my arms and turned south to face the near noon sun late in the seasonal sky. Feeling the blinding warmth on my face as I stretched asana-like in my gym sweats attired frame, chest open, slightly extended. It felt warm in an unaccustomed way, more like late-September than this November day. Even the crows grew quiet, and there was a stillness but for the gentle push of other breezes nearby but not upon me. Somewhere off a small plane droned.
At that moment, a sudden gust of wind swept from the east and, whirling seemingly upward from the ground, sent a swarm of yellow leaves high into the air from a black walnut tree behind my house. Swirls of speckled yellows canvassed against an opening clear blue sky like a work of animation, like a simulacra of bejeweled effects from some clever, intense music video. Attuned to the tranquilizing splendor of computer-generated visions, the real world, so perfect and poetic, sometimes seems deconstructed, the beauty without the splendor, the splendor simulated and mistakenly thought real. The leaves outlined a cloud of wind columning up in a three-dimensional ovoid.
Then I felt the breeze address me gently. For all its punch was spent gathering up the leaves 100 yards east. My eyes followed the graceful horde until I realized they were descending toward me trailing in the same draft that had just touched my face, an invisible field moving through everything, house, land, myself. As I followed the circular descent, the leaves came my way, yellow flecks taking form, body and suppleness with tips, angles and curves. Closer. Until I discovered to my surprise that the leaves were falling all around me. I had not moved but had unknowingly positioned my self predestined to be bathed by this rain of color on a mid-November afternoon.
Little pecks of stiffened, sun-dried leaf here and there punctuated the gravel driveway. Lazy leaves shifted as they haphazardly littered the course of the drive back down to the paved country road named for a church that topped a nearby rise in the otherwise flat valley of farmland. Irving Hill. The leaves fell to earth, the wind passed and stillness returned in the air around my body with the last leaves hollowly tapping on roof and drive.
Having risen on that same gust of wind, unknown to me, came blackbirds by the hundreds to populate a neighbor’s red oak over my opposite shoulder to the west. That tree was still golden brown, clothed in most of its leaves and would so remain many months, just before our next spring.
The blackbirds sounded their abrupt semi-crow calls, dotting the ear like the color of the forest dotted the eye, though distinctive, more concentrated, collective in varying degrees. They spoke in chaos like a room filled with convention goers before the call to order. The tree took voice and was the mighty lectern of their momentary caucus, reorganizing in mass for the next stretch of their flight…awaiting new winds.
The combination of the distance between the initial oak that showered me with leaves and the blackbirds’ oak granted me a certain knowledge of space. This Now seemed vast, all the leaves and birds and trees stretching in the sun off into pastures in the distance peopled by no utterance. No vehicle had traversed the country road since I came out to where the potting bench and grill were. It was Friday, everyone was at work. I shared the blackbird flavored country air with no other human being.
The leaves rustled again and the blackbirds started to filter to a further tree about 3 acres of open pasture away. They flew off in dozens among the hundreds still declaring their pointed cawk. Were they calling in unison, in groupings, tribes, or were they at argument with themselves? Who could tell? The stream of dozens drifted away over the privet-hedged space to an oak isolated on the border of two cut hayfields. Their relocated cantankerous romp forming a kind of spacious stereo with the target tree rising slowly in volume as the home tree was slightly diminished by the transference of numbers.
The next breeze came, the stillness was gone even as the blackbirds accentuated my sense of isolation precisely at the moment it was about to be broken. The blackbirds silenced themselves as one. This brought me back to where I was. There. At a point of light in my graveled driveway in the sun. I consciously noted the slowness of all this. Nothing was rushed. It happened. The world was slow again. Two planes now droned somewhere, my direction leaving me, watching the birds.
How many days like this had I known in the course of my life? They stretched back to my childhood on my family’s farm, alone with my dog in fields guarded by many of these same trees in autumns past. I could seemingly feel every self that had touched these moments, scattered through time. Each self listening to the drone of planes on bright, quiet afternoons, wrapped in solitude. Each self taking too much for granted, ignorant of how insufficient a thousand such days are in a life time. They seemed so few for almost a half century of living.
By comparison, how many days were spent writing or in meetings, researching, seeking career guidance or giving lectures? It was here all that time. While I had attended to things far more transient, this slow and easy day had proceeded, hanging leaves, blown, crows and blackbirds in calm anticipation and flight, changed but slightly as the globe warmed. I felt the twinge of uncertainty of whether this day might be threatened by residential development and that I might outlive the day in this place to only discover it some other.
The two planes, one before the other, droned lazily out of range and it was quiet again. Briefly. A farm truck came over a nearby rise of land. I heard him only because of the blackbirds’ abrupt silence as they took flight, all their hundreds, only the faint sound of wings aloft. The truck was suddenly there, the light roar of its engine, its tires upon the pavement passed me and seemed to follow the grouping of birds that angled away to the west, to a farther space where I was not, where they might offer themselves to anyone attuned to their splendor.