“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”
― Albert Camus

“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast


I woke up and did not know exactly what I would do with the day, I only knew that it would be outside. The Indian Summer had been endless; but there was very much the feeling that we were living on borrowed time. Today might be the last glorious day, a multicolored day in a hundred different fractured hues under a seamless blue sky.

I made certain that I was up before daylight, dressing in denim and flannel, quietly trying my best not to wake my beloved and our quartet of dogs. I packed my camera and computer and notebook.

And while I am trapped in a  suburb of absurd, closed-minded fools, I am fortunate that it is not a long way to the country and to patches of wood- large enough and deep enough- where if one arrives early enough- one may walk, in relative quiet, beneath a few remaining great trees in the last of the golden warm summer sun.

But first breakfast- for a day in the woods demands breakfast.

A dozen miles from home is a 20th century former schoolhouse which now serves as a restaurant. It is a neat and comfortable place full of warm faces, many known to one and other. It is, quite frankly, the kind of place one dreams of: great food in a family place, where one feels truly welcome.

Most amazing, in these divided times, everyone appreciates the value of this friendly place and everyone maintains their best behavior. There is no confrontation, no overt or even subversive displays of politics; just pancakes and eggs and friendliness. In all the many years I’ve been eating there, I cannot recall ever hearing a harsh word. In a world of conflict, it is an oasis of calm and even universal happiness.

And it is so this morning.

I have a large breakfast with coffee while reading of John Muir’s exploration of the artic, in The Voyage of the Corwin, one of his last great trips at the end of his long and distinguished lifetime of exploration- a voyage undertaken in the autumn of his life. Or so says Roderick Frazier Nash who wrote the Forward to the tome.

Nash writes:

His early life had been the essence or wildness and freedom. Was he becoming tied down in his fourth decade? Six months at sea (possibly a year of the Corwin overwintered in the ice) might be understood as an expression of middle-aged rebellion.

Or maybe, Muir just felt like a walkabout.

In any event, I don’t stay for even a second cup of coffee. I just want out- even if only for an hour’s peace and quiet.

And so I am out. There are too many days when I am glued to a desk- either making a living or working on photography or writing (such is the digital life)- or, especially over the last several years, molded into the couch, wasting my life watching life watching  television.

There are days, however, such as this one, when I refuse to be chained to a desk, kept indoors, or surrounded by the crowds. My eldest son’s namesake, Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, “I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.” Amen. I am with Hawthorne, and regret to say that Hemingway had it wrong. The endless rains and gray skies which drown one’s soul are not autumn. That weather is simply the prelude to death, the beginning of winter.

Autumn, true Fall, is not defined by the calendar. It is, rather, that short specific time in which the weather and temperatures defy the Gods. The sky is a clear blue vaulted ceiling, a darker blue than you have any right to hope for and the trees and grasses and plants which cover the fields maintain a thousand shades of color long past they’re allotted days.


Fall is a time of defiance, a time in which we consciously choose to ignore the oncoming season of death and, instead, live on borrowed time.

It is a season best spent in solitude, best spent alone in woods away from others and certainly spent far from the ten thousand annoyances which constitute contemporary life- far from cell phones and cars and portable contrivances blasting noise in the form of alleged music.

Silence is the true music of fall- the only sounds should be that of scampering squirrels and chipmunks, preparing for the inevitable. It should be so silent that one can hear falling desiccated leaves riding on the wind, so quiet that one can hear the colored scraps fall onto the forest floor.

It is not a time for talk- let alone for social blathering. It is a time to be valued for that single quiet hour. An hour in the woods can wash away the pain and sins of the entire preceding year, the woods should, therefore, be respected. Obviously, one should also keep quiet so as not to disturb anyone else’s revery.


This hike does not take place in any great or famous park or woodland- it is a hike through a private nature preserve, through second and third generation old growth forests with some few remaining majestic towering trees. Everywhere, however, the true essence of Fall remains.

The forest is interspersed with open fields- with acres of asters and goldenrod. And while there are a few great bright orange specimens of maples, the leaves are primarily in yellow or varying shades of brown or rust. This is a place of humble beauty. Cinderella before the ball.

It is not Vermont or the upper peninsula of Michigan or the forests surrounding New Mexico’s Wheeler’s Peak. It is not the sunbathed aspens of Colorado’s Sangre De Christo Mountains.  I’ve wandered those places, and they are magnificent. This is not there.

Some of the few remaining majestic trees here were recently decimated, a large section of the more mature open forest was wiped out this spring when a tornado tore across the highest ridge. Large hardwoods snapped fifty feet above the ground and large trees were blown over.

But then, this is all par for the course. For this is hard country and one must take one’s beauty where one can find it, one must make one’s own peace, discover one’s own serenity where one can.

Yet this place is still Fall in the Midwest. It is, in its own subtle way, lovely.

And on the bright side, the brain-numb tourists who thoughtlessly stampede these days through every worthwhile park, scenic location, and town in America will not be coming here today. In fact, this morning, I have this trail to myself.

Which is very good. For despite all of this place’s detractions and limitations, I want nothing more to be here this day.

I take it all in, appreciating that this spectacle is rare – especially for anyone in the autumn of  their life. After Covid and losing several family members in the last two years, now more than ever, I appreciate that such an opportunity to blend with these woodland colors and quiet may not ever come again.

I appreciate, therefore, not only the colors, but the sounds, and the lack of sound, the textures, and the smells. Rilke, that mad poet who always saw beyond the literal and corporal, the obvious; understood Fall, comprehended the essence of the season, better than Hemingway:

“At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke-Letters to Cezenne.

I know all this, but do not think this. This morning I only appreciate.

It rained earlier in the week and leaves and colors are thinning, we will not have any of this for much longer. Soon we will be forced inside by the cold, the never-ending rains. Then it will be as though someone young died for no good reason.

It is only for today that we are guaranteed this opportunity to revel in our defiance of the universe.