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Starting Point

Autumn’s golden, poignant days


When the wind sweeps through the trees and the autumn leaves drift down, I am often swept into a reverie where I hear my mother’s voice calling me as a child, “Come home.” It was time for supper and I was off playing somewhere on the farm.

I remember those autumns of my youth, when idyllic summer passed into autumn, bringing a heightened sense of something completed. The trees in the apple orchard drooped like our gray mother cat when pregnant, drooped with the weight of full-term, juicy red apples. The pasture grass lay long and cured to the color of wheat, which in contrast to the brilliant blue sky was breathtaking. The barn, newly painted a rich, blood red with white trim, sported new blue shingles. It was ready for the baby Angus calves due any day. I remember my dad whistling in the barn as he spread fragrant, shiny yellow straw for them.

Sounds carried on the wind as big band music drifted from the kitchen radio, and I could hear Mom clattering pots and pans as she put supper on the table. Later, after the dishes were done, darkness fell like God pulling a shade, while the sound of mourning doves could be heard from the distant grove where I had my tree house. Their alluring song blended into a chorus of sounds as crickets and frogs started up. A cow lowed contentedly from the barnyard adding to the cadence while a million stars came out.

The chickens had gone to roost for the night in the branches of trees, their heads tucked under their wings while fireflies flickered about. Bats darted here and there, eating bugs, and hummingbird moths flitted softly among the velvet petals of my mother’s petunias, dimly visible by the yard light.

I remember going out to the pasture to visit Polly, our old workhorse and my best friend, her worn leather halter jingling as she nudged my shoulder. I would give her a hearty scratching on her shoulders, neck and between the ears. “Best horse God ever made,” I said, watching as a cloud passed over the full moon, momentarily sending the pasture and world into darkness.

The wind brushed across my face, ruffling my bangs while the leaves rustled in the branches of an old, nearby box elder tree, making a rattling sound. Polly raised her head with a jerk, her mouth half full of grass, listening to the squeak-squish sound of my tennis shoes on the wet grass soggy with dew. Those were the kind of nights where every sound echoed musically across the farm, and I could hear Mom call, “Time for bed,” from the porch. I would cup my hands to my mouth and call back, “Be right there,” as the wind swept through the trees yet again and more leaves scuttled around my feet.

The poet Paul Verlaine wrote:

The long sobs
of the violins
of autumn
pierce my heart.

Each year we see the earth prepare for winter and things pass away, only to be reborn in the spring. To witness it is a privilege beyond compare. Before the winter winds come and blast our lands with cold, we gather autumn to our breasts. Its golden, poignant days and memories are like a cloak wrapping itself around us. “This, too shall pass,” we say, as we reflect upon the present days.

Autumn days become all the more precious because we know they are fleeting. Faith, however, hovers closer, ever present in the seasonal rites of passage that take place upon the land, within our world and within our prayers. Like our mothers’ voices echoing, “Come home,” from our childhoods, faith and autumn call us home to our hearts and the things we can be sure of -- reminding us, as Helen Keller once wrote, “What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

Joni Woelfel’s newest book, Meditations for Survivors of Suicide (Resurrection Press), was published last month. She lives in Seaforth, Minn.

National Catholic Reporter, October 4, 2002