descriptions of commonplace things

“October” by Willard Metcalf

Back in March, when I was sorting through the boxes of family stuff, I found the following undated, typewritten account of a lovely October day Tim’s great-grandparents spent together many years ago. Charles Amos Hamilton (1866-1943) wrote it for his wife, Gertrude Mabel Hubbard (1874-1965). They lived in Batavia, New York.

AN OCTOBER DAY

Written for the delectation of my good wife, Gertrude, who delights in reading descriptions of commonplace things, written in rather grandiloquent language.


The poet wrote,
“What is so rare as a day in June,
Then, if ever, come perfect days.”

Without questioning the judgment or belittling the taste of the writer of this couplet, I make the assertion that, with equal or even greater veracity, it might have been written with the substitution of “October” for “June.” For, in old October, Nature gives us examples of a brilliance of coloring, and a tang of ozone, which June, for meteorological reasons, cannot duplicate.

I arise on a bright October morning and raise the shades of my bedroom window. What a riot of all the hues of the rainbow meet my eyes. From the pale green of maple leaves not yet touched by autumn’s frosty fingers, up through the entire gamut of the spectrum, to the vivid scarlet of maples of a different species. As the leaves rustle in the light breeze, they seem to be whispering “Goodbye” to their companions of the departed summer. The dark green limbs of the evergreens nearer the house, stand out like sentinels, bravely daring the blasts of the coming winter. The sunlight lies in little pools in the verdancy of the lawn, dotted here and there by vagrant leaves which have thus early abandoned the protection of their parent branch. The clump of spireas, which last June resembled a snow-bank, now has the appearance of a cluster of shrubs, which in the serene consciousness of a duty well done, are now nestling quietly and unobtrusively together. A belated hollyhock, and a few sturdy petunias, render an additional dash of color. Glancing from the the rear window, I behold the majestic line of cedars, bowing gently before the breeze, but standing with all the dignity of a line of knights in full armor. The row of sweet alyssum shows the same white purity it has maintained for several months. Two scarlet rose-buds, with youthful optimism, raise their heads fearlessly to the autumnal skies, disregarding the improbability of their ever being able to attain maturity.

Later in the day, we take a drive in our Buick, through the farm lands of the vicinity. The same magnificent coloring marks the foliage everywhere, outdoing the most artistic efforts of the painter’s brush. Huge stacks of golden straw stand beside the farmer’s barns, testifying to the repleteness of the barns with fodder for the stock. We know without inspection, that the cellars are well filled with fruits and vegetables, destined to adorn many a well-filled table, and to furnish apples and pop-corn for groups of merry young people. In the fields, the sheep are quietly nibbling, already comfortably clad in their winter woolens. The cows are lying placidly chewing the rumen of contentment. Everything denotes peace, harmony and plenty. Occasionally, a vagrant leaf flutters down momentarily upon the hood of the car, then, as if disdaining its warmth, flutters away to joining its companions by the roadside.

In the evening, fortified by an excellent dinner, maybe washed down by a flagon of “Old October ale,” we sit by the bright flame of our fireplace, and as we listen to the occasional snap of the apple-tree wood, and watch the sparks seek freedom via the chimney, we feel that “God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world.” Yes, what is so rare as a day in October?

the world as a tree

"Lane of Poplars on the Banks of the Loing" by Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) French Impressionist Landscape Painter
“Lane of Poplars on the Banks of the Loing” by Alfred Sisley

With the passage of days in this godly isolation [desert], my heart grew calm. It seemed to fill with answers. I did not ask questions any more; I was certain. Everything – where we came from, where we are going, what our purpose is on earth – struck me as extremely sure and simple in this God-trodden isolation. Little by little my blood took on the godly rhythm. Matins, Divine Liturgy, vespers, psalmodies, the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening, the constellations suspended like chandeliers each night over the monastery: all came and went, came and went in obedience to eternal laws, and drew the blood of man into the same placid rhythm. I saw the world as a tree, a gigantic poplar, and myself as a green leaf clinging to a branch with my slender stalk. When God’s wind blew, I hopped and danced, together with the entire tree.
~ Nikos Kazantzakis
(The Wonders of Solitude)

profound stillness

“Forest in the Winter” by Isaac Levitan

I love the deep silence of the midwinter woods. It is a stillness you can rest your whole weight against. Not the light silence of summer, constantly broken by the sound of leaves, bird-song, the scurry of little beasts, the hum of insects. This stillness is so profound you are sure it will hold and last.
~ Florence Page Jaques
(Snowshoe Country)

When I was a child I loved winter, still do. There were so many moments when time seemed to stand still. Outdoors playing in the swamp and in the woods behind our house. The magic of ice-skating between clumps of earth surrounded by ice in the swamp. At dusk. Sometimes there were snow flurries, too, adding a silent thrill to the spell.

Only now do I discern the concept of stillness. My life happens in a small city these days and I have been complaining to Tim about the racket the snow plows keep making in their ceaseless efforts to keep the roads and our parking spaces clear. I find myself craving to be away from the noise, to enjoy snow flurries out my window without the inevitable pandemonium.

Maybe I’m just cranky these days. A couple of days before my six-week surgery follow-up I came down with a bad cold. Tim had it for three days before I succumbed to it, so we have been very miserable together. As soon as I got the go-ahead from the surgeon to resume normal activities I was too sick to enjoy the freedom! And now that the cold is almost gone I will be going to see the radiation oncologist tomorrow to consult about the next round of treatment.

A few years ago I wrote this on one of my posts:  One early wordless memory I have is of lying on the cold winter ground in the woods and eyeing a little princess pine peeking through the snow. I was astonished at the connection I felt to the small precious life, and how thrilled I was to be aware of its presence!

One little princess pine in an endless sea of snow and trees. I thought of that moment once again when I read Florence Page Jaques’ words about “a stillness you can rest your whole weight against.” One little cancer survivor in the endless flow of here/now.

middle summer

“The Flowers of Middle Summer” by Henri Fantin-Latour

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.
~ Natalie Babbitt
(Tuck Everlasting)

in the dim twilight

summer wolf by Chrille Kroll

But especially he loved to run in the dim twilight of the summer midnights, listening to the subdued and sleepy murmurs of the forest, reading signs and sounds as man may read a book, and seeking for the mysterious something that called – called, waking or sleeping, at all times, for him to come.
~ Jack London
(The Call of the Wild)

white flowers of the night

mykolapymonenko-ukrainian-night-1905
“Ukrainian Night” by Mykola Pymonenko

But here there was not a sound, and the air was scented with the white flowers of the night. It was a night so beautiful that your soul seemed hardly able to bear the prison of the body.
~ W. Somerset Maugham
(The Moon & Sixpence)

Night, the beloved. Night, when words fade and things come alive. When the destructive analysis of day is done, and all that is truly important becomes whole and sound again. When man reassembles his fragmentary self and grows with the calm of a tree.
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
(Flight to Arras)

owl prowl

5.25.17 ~ twilight at Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, Mystic, Connecticut ~ photo by Timothy Rodgers

The pale stars were sliding into their places. The whispering of the leaves was almost hushed. All about them it was still and shadowy and sweet. It was that wonderful moment when, for lack of a visible horizon, the not yet darkened world seems infinitely greater — a moment when anything can happen, anything be believed in.
~ Olivia Howard Dunbar
(The Shell of Sense)

barred owl ~ photo by Mark Musselman, South Carolina

Last night, we took a magical evening walk in the woods, an owl prowl, offered by the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. And something wonderful did happen! We saw and heard a family of barred owls, a mother and three fledglings!

Before the walk we listened to a lecture about the owls found in Connecticut, some common, like the barred owl, others rare, like the snowy owl. We met a little rescued screech owl who was blind in one eye. And there was a lab where we got to crack open a sterilized owl pellet and find the bones and teeth of swallowed rodents. A very informative and enchanting evening!