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The leaves are almost gone. They were stunning this year, but just as they reached their carnival peak, I went to the desert and when I returned the wind had blown most of them into rust colored piles on the ground and now I press what is left of the blazing color, that last week was pressed against the sky, under my boots with a crunch. Another year of life, pressed under the boot heel, compost maybe for next year’s flowers? Beauty dulled, wasted, soul filling color faded to veins and dust.
The world in which I find myself does not allow for the sad, the broken, the used up. The cold, stark world of decaying leaves and bone cleansing winds drives us in, not inside ourselves to see the same, but into our houses filled with artificial warmth and Christmas colors. We will go back when the world hides its nakedness under a new coat of leaves, when it once again covers itself with the chaos of green buds and bright flowers. Or we might venture out if we find it bundled under a blanket of snow. Anything to cover the sad, structural features of the stripped landscape. But this year, for some reason the warmth seems artificial and small. The cold and decay seep under the door and put out their long misty fingers in search of something. I seal the doors and windows. The color is gone…time for hibernation. I come from a background which does not tolerate despair. If the lights of Christmas and Easter are not enough to illuminate the darkness, whose fault can it be but mine? Signs of decomposition are ignored and hidden. When the winter comes we go inside. The darkness of the soul and mind are papered over with a false sense of faith, a list of magical incantations meant to keep the darkness at bay. And yet….
It’s possible that if I write in letters small enough and slanted enough that I will feel comfortable letting the words slip softly, sneakingly, out of my head and onto the paper…quiet, quiet little words falling onto the paper with a whisper from the rough end of my old and spitting pen. Words of winter, better left unsaid, perhaps. The thoughts they represent are as veined and old as the leaves which have inspired them. How did I skip the bold stage of autumn where the leaves die fiercely in brilliant pools of golden yellow light, or in a fury of blazing red fire, clinging urgently to the trees in the face of the winter? I have come back to a time when winter is already ascendant. From carnival to funeral in the space of a week.
The young can only give a vague and half-hearted assent to the idea that age is like autumn and autumn is like age. The autumn clings to the fertility of the earlier year, if only by creating a colorful tribute to it because it realizes that it is dying. But I am beginning to understand it. The time comes when even the healthy must understand that time is not infinite, possibilities begin to cancel each other out. The boundaries of the trap become visible and there is one way out and only a limited time for defiance and brilliance. The winter comes when all of the choices and possibilities and chaos of the earlier year harden into reality. The cloak is snatched away, the ornamentation is removed. The truth of winter is unsoftened, drab and gray.
This year the winter is moving already. Sometimes it waits...it lingers on the outskirts of autumn politely and even lets summer have a moment or two to play again. This year, winter seems insistent, pressing. But this year, I want to go into the winter, to see what it wants to say, to defy it like the blazing leaves. The bare branches against the gray sky, the wind that cleans off the last of the detritus, the brown sleeping grass. I have sneaking moments when I have a mad desire to feel the wind in my face or the snow on my cheeks. I want to feel the dead ground, brown and hard, under my feet. I want to see the structure…the underneath. I want to see what is left when everything dies. I want to feel my bones ache with the cold in the dark night filled with the tiny glittering icy pinpricks of stars and then be drawn into the poor yellow lamplight of my house or the still defiant, but small hot red fire in the stove. I want the cup of tea to warm me. First I will have to be cold. And the tulips, and the lilacs need the cold too, I remember, and although I don’t quite believe in it in the dead of winter, maybe there will be spring. And if I let the winter teach me something, maybe I will understand the chicks, and the flowers, and the Easter better. Maybe if I feel the winter this time, if I let it cut through me and clean my bones and watch it eat the leaves and grass I will be able to feel it breaking up, to feel the subtle signs of its subjugation again in the spring.