It is autumn. Things are letting go.
Leaves and acorns. Petals and pine cones. Releasing their tenuous grips on branches and stems and falling to the ground, twirling on the current of cool breezes or dancing madly like jig dolls, joyously riding the wind. They do not fight the pull of gravity.
If there is a season of silence, this is it. Sandwiched between summer’s fireworks and winter’s jingles is this moment. It is as though nature has paused to catch her breath. Even in the arenas where human voices gather and rise — football stadiums, sidewalks on Halloween — they are softer than they would be otherwise, the damp air tamping them down to a dull hum.
The silence is not complete, though. It is broken at uneven intervals by a flock of geese slipping across the sky at dusk, the soft rustle of a covey of quail lifting from the broom sedge like a puff of smoke, the heavy drizzle of four inches of rain falling off the roof.
I went to visit one of my friends this morning. She is 92 and recently had an accident that has intruded upon her independence. She did not need my encouragement toward recovery. She is as determined and self-motivated as she has ever been, but it cannot be denied that, if a single life has seasons, my friend is living in her winter.
Neither can it be argued that I am not living in my autumn. I confess to shuttering a little at that thought, which, without invitation, took roost in my mind as I left my friend. Autumn. The season of being quiet and letting go.
But then I remembered the butterflies.
A few days ago, on All Saints’ Sunday, I wandered around the yard for a few minutes ruminating over the list of names I’d just heard read from the pulpit. The name of one of my dearest friends. The name of one of the kindest gentlemen I’ve ever known. The name of a man who read everything I wrote in this newspaper and used it as ammunition to tease me unmercifully.
A chime had been rung, a candle had been lit for each of them. Acknowledgments of lives lived well through all their seasons, some not as long as others, but each one complete.
Just as I was about to turn maudlin, I saw a butterfly. A little bigger than a silver dollar, it was flitting from the tight flowers of the verbena to the open flutter of the Mexican petunias, petunias that grew from bulbs shared with me by the tease and his wife. Following it in hopes of getting a photograph, I spotted two more. Three butterflies, all different, darting from one bloom to another in the chill sunlight of the first week in November.
Seasons are funny. We think we know what to expect from them. We think we know how to dress, where to travel, what there will be to eat. But then seasons surprise us. A cold snap freezes the peach blossoms in April. Kids start school in flip flops. And butterflies appear in November.
I am willing to embrace silence and let go of the things that no longer have life. But I am not willing to live as though that is all there is, as though all that lies ahead are colder days and stiffer winds. I am not content to huddle and hunch and crouch against the growing darkness. I want to live my autumn in constant anticipation of being surprised.