I get this way every year about this time. Don’t get me wrong: I love this season, probably more than any of its other three siblings, but there’s an undeniable nostalgia and sadness to this time of year. Autumn is a poignant leaving, like the death of a beloved friend, or the end of a love affair, or the aches and pains and brittle bones of old age. I should know: I’ve known all these and more. Sigh.
Maybe it’s just the quality of autumnal light. The meager slant of shadow or the quickening darkness. Maybe it’s the early morning chill that sidles up onto the porch to cool my steaming cup of coffee. Maybe it’s the first leaves drifting down to cover our little patch of lawn like fallen soldiers. Then again, maybe it’s that first whiff of sweet woodsmoke, or the burn of that first sip of bedtime whisky, or the clutter and squawk of all those chatterbox geese, tired and hungry after their long flight back to our watery world. Or maybe it’s just a tide of tiny chrysanthemums drifting silently in a black pool on a quiet Sunday afternoon, slow dancing to the music of the spheres.
Or maybe it’s the telltale ticking of our inner clock, the one marking our atavistic instinct about the days to come, days when we’ll hunker down to wait out the long, frigid nights under a pile of blankets, snug in our beds, dreaming of spring’s return.
Despite all the sturm und drang of this quarrelsome year, the world keeps spinning its way through space, heedless of all the problems we’ve created since we were last at this point on our heavenly journey: a pandemic, a divided government and an ugly election, the diminution of science to a black art, the turmoil of racial and social injustice, wildfires, hurricanes and tropical storms, droughts—the indisputable tracks of our changing climate. I don’t know about you but sometimes it all just feels so overwhelming to me.
So what’s the answer? My Pollyanna nature is at an impasse. Retreat—running away— doesn’t seem to be an option because the stakes are too high and the world is too small. Denial doesn’t work either because the realities are all too real. A wait-and-see approach sounds every bit as ominous as that bell I’ve heard tolling from the White House recently. You know the one I mean; the one tolling for our democracy, the one that tolls for all of us.
So here’s what I’ve decided to do: sure, I’ll vote but that’s just the beginning because the tears of autumn won’t end when we wake up on the morning of November fourth. No matter who wins, many will lose and much healing work will need to be done, work requiring great and patient effort. I’m not sure I’ll have what it takes, but I’ll do what I can. In the meantime, maybe I’ll exercise more and eat less. Maybe I’ll practice my short game, play my pipes, finish my novel. I’ll sweep the porch, make my bed. I’ll try and do “all politics is local” one better; I’ll make my politics personal. That might sound like a paltry mantra for a guy in his own autumn, but it’s the best I can do.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.
Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com