‘Tis finally spring. . .in Rio

Today marks the autumnal equinox, which means that spring has officially arrived … if you live in Rio de Janeiro. Here in Vermont, Land of the Giant Zucchini, it is now officially fall. (Just for the record, at the moment my wife has on the kitchen counter a zucchini the size of a baseball bat. It is not inconceivable that Barry Bonds used this very zucchini to club his record-shattering 756th home run.)
Yes, the nights are longer than the days, and the days are only as long as they were in the middle of March. In other words, the last time the days were this short there were sugar makers who were still waiting for their first sap run, and there was serious snow in the woods.
If this sounds bleak, it is important to remember as well that autumn remains the season for which our illustrious state is best known. No one goes to Florida in September or October to see the fall foliage. (People go to Florida in the autumn to see hurricanes.) Once when I was in Tuscany — a place on the planet that is no slouch when it comes to stunning scenery and spectacular vistas — a person who had lived his entire life in that corner of Italy told me that there were two things he wanted to see before he died: the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and the leaves changing colors in Vermont.
The fellow told me this at a dinner party, and there was a woman sitting near us from Hollywood who was working on a screenplay for a movie based on the space shuttle Challenger disaster from 1986, and she had all sorts of astonishing stories about that tragedy. Nevertheless, all everyone wanted to talk about were the Vermont leaves.
Well, everyone but me. I kept wanting to talk about the space program, but the rest of the table wanted to hear about autumn in the Green Mountains. My sense is that our hostess could have walked in from the kitchen and told us that she had just served us a stew made from puppies, and still people would have asked me about the shades of red and yellow and orange that mark the woods here in the fall.
My point? Sometimes we take autumn in Vermont for granted. Certainly I do. First of all, as a parent, I am so focused on the chaos that marks the start of the school year that often I forget to look at the mountains and watch the remarkable ribbons of color work their way down from the peaks to the valleys. Then, when my daughter is starting to settle into her routine, I begin to concentrate on winterizing the house and making sure my wood is in and the gardens are put to bed. If I notice the leaves at all, it seems, it is only because I note there are fewer of them on the trees and I am reminded that the clock is ticking.
And, of course, fall is all about the ticking clock. The world is growing quiescent, and in some cases actively dying. Let’s face it: That gorgeous show in the branches is there because the leaf is no longer producing chlorophyll, and as it withers we witness its true colors.
Consequently, I think we all experience a wistfulness on some level. I do. My sense is a part of us even craves that melancholy after the vigor and the hilarity of summer.
And, perhaps, that, too, is one of the reasons why people flock here in the autumn. Yes, there are the remarkable colors of those leaves. But, like so much else in the world, it’s not their beauty that moves us; it’s the way their beauty won’t last. It’s more about transience than transcendence — though Robert Frost said it much better than me:
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.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on September 23.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

One thought on “‘Tis finally spring. . .in Rio

  1. AutumnCan'tBeatSpringtime says:

    Although Vermont is surely quite beautiful in Autumn, I dread the dead chill of winter, even in My crazy state, which seems to encompass everything from Florida’s balmy temps to the most frigid blasts of winter’s fury that can be churned up (especially with climate warming, it is not strange to see cherry blossoms in December and blizzards in January followed by days where shorts would not be out of place). Um, I do love Autumn. Halloween, Dia De Los Muertos, Thanksgiving….and the leaves. But let’s face it, nothing beats Spring for a season. Spring is beautiful and offers promise of days of greater light and more color in our world. The most exquisite colors of soft, vibrant pinks, greens and yellows. Autumn is one, last, intensely firey burst of brilliant color, and then comes dull, dead November. ~Sigh~ Anyway, I hope I will see at least a few icy-bright wintery days of cold, blue skies and white frost glittering like mad everywhere. Then I can stand Winter…for a while.

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