categories: Cocktail Hour / Getting Outside


There it is, the first fiery leaf at the edge of the forest, and only mid-August. And now that I’m looking, I spy several distinctly yellowing popple trees off in the distance, and a shade of purple taking over some of the grand ashes spotted through the canopy. The broken old box elders in the shedyard are all but bare. I tell myself these are stressed trees, not harbingers. But the field weeds are dying back, too, really only the golden rod in its glory, not even any monarch  butterflies unfolding and drying their wings out of chrysalis: frost in Mexico three winters ago, and recovery uncertain.

In parts of China and elsewhere in Asia, people identify five seasons—fall, winter, spring, summer and gold. This weather, this mood, this message in the wind, this is gold, that poignant period at the end of summer that isn’t yet fall, but nearly always pushes past the equinox. At 58 years of age it’s nice for me to remember (all of sudden) the concept of gold. I’m just not ready for autumn, beautiful as it always is hereabouts, as clear as the air will be, as few insects will be around, as pleasurable the start of autumn life: school, football, Congress back in session, whiffs of death.

Autumn’s about letting go, leaves falling, things coming apart, green chlorophyll thinning to reveal red, red thinning to reveal… well, it’s death again. But gold’s about holding on, holding on in the face of signs subtle and overt. Gold’s got its own flowers, subtle things, weedy, perennial, climate adapted. I love a hydrangea, that kind of holding the bloom till as late as possible, blooming through frosts, false youth, drying into beauty. Autumn’s the time of migration, of leaving. But gold is the time of new blue jays, new cardinals, new mergansers on the stream, new woodpeckers, new flickers bleating like lambs. These juvenile birds brighten up the morning, missing the bar on the bird feeder and flipping upside down, landing on the book I’m reading and staring at me without alarm, gathering in fives and sixes on branches with their mouths open, not entirely convinced that mom and dad are through with them.

My daughter, Elysia, is almost eleven, her birthday the first day of fall.

58 isn’t a landmark age, but it puts me firmly in the gold of my life. My birthday was August 18, a Thursday this year. Elysia and Juliet and I biked Chebeague Island off Portland (our Portland, in Maine), met my old pal Melissa for dinner in town. My father called while we were eating, also mailed a card timed carefully to arrive the day previous. He’d made it himself on his computer, bright black-and-yellow radiation symbols, caution bars, big black letters:


Of course, the first thing I did was open it. “Still a rebel after all these years,” says the kinder font inside, and “Happy Birthday Willy.”

It’s like I’m six again, reading it, and brief tears spring to my eyes.

Pop is 84. On the phone I tell him I didn’t open the card—it said not to. “Kind of scared me. Threw it away.”

“But there was a check in there!”

“I should be sending you checks!”


When I speak of gold, I’m not speaking of one’s “golden years”—those are older years than mine. “Nothing golden about them,” as an elderly student of mine once observed over the farting sounds his colostomy bag was making. I’m just talking about a season, my favorite, something definite that I’ll claim as my own.

Ah gold! The (nearly) mosquito-free season, the season of (occasional) crystal nights, the season of (hellacious) sneezes three at a time, the season of bold decline. I say bold because even with your throwing arm thrown and your skin speckled in alarming variety, even with your neck half broken, even with the names of good friends gone missing just when you’re going to introduce them to dignitaries, even with thistledown floating off the top of your head, you’re at the peak of other powers, powers you may never have had: understanding, tolerance, intuition, intellect, wisdom, compassion, peace.

Or at least you’d like to think so.

Crickets. Did I mention crickets? Cicadas. Honeybees. And in Maine, tomatoes, finally.

On Scarborough Beach, the day after my birthday, I found a plain, half-inch-wide porcelain knob, stained to off-white, hole in the center, top lightly pitted by a century in a dump, then years in one inlet or another, years more in the ocean. I plucked it from the sand. Unbidden, the picture of a little door came to mind, something oaken and well made, something you find accidentally in a lost corner of a lost forest, something you find perhaps searching for something else. A little door in a wall of light, key under a toadstool. Opening just big enough for a big person like me to crawl through naked, portal to the rest of my days, everything different on the other side, everything gold.

  1. Tommy writes:

    Gee, Bill, seems like it weren’t that many weeks ago you sent us video with snowflakes on your lashes. The saddest day of the year for me is when we put daylight savings time to bed. The second saddest, the first day I have to wear long pants – usually about mid-October.

    I started my small garden, my first in years, as an afterthought. The cucumber just started producing, there’s no fruit on the tomatoes yet, and the cantalope is running wild with bright yellow flowers – as if summer’s going to last forever. It feels like it. Today I watched two honey bees float aimlessly between tiny yellow flowers peeking inside each one – what a delight!

    Autumn, for me is a time for mourning, a time to consider floating down to another hemispere, and witness the rebirth of Spring, all over again. It gets too damn cold down here in Georgia, during the dark months. Last year was the coldest winter I could remember, and this, the hottest summer. Makes you wonder, our comfort zones are so narrow, and survival on a tiny planet hurtling though cold space – tenuous.

  2. Cider Rides writes:

    Every year, since becoming an adult, the season that I treasure most, for IT IS GOLDEN, is the time that passes between ‘Labor Day’ and “Columbus Day” (er, I mean “Explorer’s Day”.) Like the bugs, the tourists have retreated, days are warm and dry so I may strive at endeavors and not drown in my own sweat, nights are cool for restful slumber and I can, again, see the stars that offer-up guidance to light my path. When the gold of this season fades I, then, pine for the gold of forsythia and the days of gold they forecast.

  3. Susan Pearsall writes:

    Thanks for opening our eyes to this golden slice of life. Mother Nature really shows us the peaks and valleys of life and the golden moments open to us, if we only watch carefully. I, too, am holding on as my tomato leaves wither and my 10-foot-tall sunflowers thrash wildly in Irene’s wicked winds.

    Happy (belated) Birthday Bill! My parents’ cards also bring quick tears to my eyes. This year, my mom, now 80, wrote about how frightened she was when her water broke 10 weeks early while pregnant with me and my parents’ joy when I arrived a month later, sound and incredibly small. All that love, all my life. Tearing up again…

  4. Rick Van Noy writes: