October

autumn lake

There’s an old green-covered book I open this time of year. The spine is split in some parts, the lettering on the cover is faded. It’s a book of poems by Robert Frost that my mother gave to me in high school. It was already worn back then. I don’t know if she bought it used somewhere around town or if someone made a gift of it to her years before. It wasn’t a formal presentation or given to mark a special occasion. It was like the other things she gave to us – a sort of “here’s something you might enjoy,” or “take a look at this.” Items that would simply appear on our dressers without any note at all – Classic Comics for my brothers, a porcelain bluebird for my sister’s collection, a red maple leaf, an exotic stamp off a letter from her brother who traveled widely. Things that would delight, pique our curiosity, entertain, or answer to inner longings.

The book of poems resonated deeply with me, especially the ones in the beginning of the book from the section “A Boy’s Will.” The autumn poems in particular became the ones that most spoke to me. “October” might have been the first poem I ever memorized, outside of school assignments. I memorized it because I wanted the words inside me, I wanted to walk through an autumn day and have the words at the ready: “O hushed October morning mild, Thy leaves have ripened to the fall, Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild, Should waste them all.”

CP autumn bridge

These many years later, the words are still there. As I walk through the neighborhood or cut through Central Park, a solitary leaf might float down from a tree on a mild autumn day, and I hear the words: “Release one leaf at break of day, At noon release another leaf.” The birds in the autumn sky might caw and without any prompting my heart recites: “The crows above the forest call; Tomorrow they may form and go.”

CP yellow elms

The simple book of poems remains the touchstone of autumn for me – it embodies the solitary, the nostalgia and memories of other Octobers, and the deep connection of inner yearning with outer seasonal beauty.

book with leaves

(Thank goodness Robert Frost didn’t stop at October. His poem “My November Guest” soon became my favorite.)

yellow leaf on bench

Autumn Orchards

red apples

A trip to the orchard always feels like stepping back in time, especially at this time of year. There is something quaint and old-fashioned about the crates of red, green, and yellow apples, the rows of trees and pumpkin fields under an open sky, the warm colors of autumn’s harvest all around.

Even the things you can buy at an orchard are wholesome and picturesque. Besides bags of apples, there are rows of jams and honey, pumpkins and gourds, and ears of Indian corn in those gorgeous colors that always surprise.

And who can pass up the apple cider, the caramel apples, and the apple cider donuts?

There were several orchards around the small town in Illinois where I grew up. But there was one we went to every fall, making almost weekly trips to buy apples. We’d also buy jars of apple butter, homemade peanut brittle, and containers of popping corn. Once I was visiting home during the Fall Festival and was lucky enough to find beautiful bunches of bittersweet for sale. They were tied in thick clusters, vibrant in color. I bought several bunches and they decorated my NYC apartment for many years.

The old-fashioned, romantic allure of the orchard  found its way into my WWII era Christmastime series. The main character, Lillian, was raised in upstate New York where the seasonal beauty of the orchards and fields influenced her as an artist. She moves to the city, but her sister, Annette, runs an orchard with her husband. Lillian is grateful to have that haven to return to, where she can reconnect with her girlhood and enjoy the pleasures of country living. And her two boys, Tommy and Gabriel, love the freedom of running through the orchard and playing in the cider house. And sometimes, they celebrate Christmas there.

orchard apples on ground

This time of year is all too brief — the harvest season, apples and pumpkins, the colors of fall, sweater weather. Soon the trees will soon lose their leaves, the temperatures will drop, and the orchards will close their doors.

orchard yellow leaved tree

Before that happens, make a trip to an orchard — crunch into a juicy apple, take some cider home with you, treat yourself to a caramel apple. Or just stroll around the earthy charm of the orchard, and savor this beautiful time of year.

orchard path fall

 

Late September — Central Park

1 trees yellow

Yellow. The color of late September. Faded gold, gilded green, amber. In Central Park today, even the air appeared yellow as sunlight filtered through the thinning leaves. Throughout the park, yellow leaves lay scattered beneath the trees, on the roads, sidewalks, and grass. The day was unusually warm and the bright sun brought out the golden hues.

blog header September CP

I strolled through one of my favorite walkways, a short path alongside a fence covered in a tangle of morning glories. The vines still showed pink and purple, with yellowed leaves mixed among the green.

yellow lane

Something caught my attention in the distance, and I had to stop and stare, puzzling out what I was seeing. A patch of air glittered among the yellow trees. I realized it was a shaft of sunlight shining on a spray of water from a sprinkler. Shadows boxed it in so that it looked like a square patch of sparkles hovering in the air.

Straggly clusters of flowers still showed a bit of color, as in the clouds of white that surrounded the elms.

flowers elms

And though most flowers now have woody stems and drooping leaves, there are still vibrant patches of color to be found, soaking up the warmth of late September.

colored flowers

The weather will change soon and cooler temperatures will bring about the more dramatic colors of autumn. Who knows? By next week touches of orange and red might tinge the trees. And September’s soft yellow will shift to the sharper, more vibrant yellow of October.

leaf

 

Autumn and Poetry

 

leaves on steps

Autumn and poetry go hand in hand. There is something inherently nostalgic and meditative about this time of year that points the mind to introspection. End-of-year wistfulness mixes with the excitement of going back to school, crisper weather, and the coming holidays.

Some poems set this emotionally rich time of year against the splendor of fall, as in John Keats’s “To Autumn” — “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…”

Sept pond w bridge

and Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” — “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…”

a yellow wood

Other poems capture the elegiac melancholy of autumn, as in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Spring and Fall”  to a young child:

goldengrove

MÁRGARÉT, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Áh! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

stone stairs

On these beautiful fall days, curl up with a good book on a mild September afternoon, or in the evenings that now descend earlier. Find a good poem and let the lines run through your head as you kick through the autumn leaves and take in this season of nostalgia, excitement, and beauty.

colored leaves

September

2 -By all these lovely tokensSeptember days are here.--- Helen Hunt Jackson

Back to school. Yellow leaves. Sunny days and chill nights.

back to school

Apples and cider. Sweaters and boots. Chrysanthemums, dahlias, and asters.

Frosty mornings. Acorns and buckeyes. Leisurely walks. The last of the garden tomatoes.

autumn walk

Curling up with a good book. Hot chocolate. Tartans and flannel. Shawls.

autumn cocoa and book

 Curling up with a good book.

book autumn leaf

 

Travel – Bangladesh

winter-morning-rice field

In the mornings, I stood on the bedroom balcony, and closed my eyes as I listened to the sounds of Bangladesh: bells from the bicycle rickshaws, short beeps from the motorbikes, the alluring call of the muezzin from the nearby mosque. Small birds chirped from trees that rose up past the balcony, and geese squawked and flapped their wings in the neighboring yard.

rickshaw

One day,  as I was writing, I heard music coming from the street, and I ran downstairs to the front veranda to see what it was. I was delighted to find an enchanting procession passing by on the dirt road outside the house. But then I was told that it was a Hindu funeral and they were on their way to the cremation. Carried on the shoulders of six men was a wicker bier on which the body was laid, its head rocking back and forth with the movement of their walking. The men held burning sticks of incense, and the group that followed made rhythmic sounds from bells and tiny brass instruments. It was a day-to-day event, and the other people on the street took little notice.

A group of giggling schoolgirls in uniforms of pale blue and white passed by, their black hair neatly arranged in buns or in braids. Vendors passed the procession, bent only on selling their wares: a stick-thin man with a bamboo pole across his shoulders with baskets of vegetables on either end, the bangle lady enticing the women in the houses with her cries of “churi, churi!” and a man carrying a colorful stack of cloth on his head. Life and death were in easy company on the busy, dusty street.

Folk_Art_Museum_Sonargaon

 

 

 

The Eclipse — A World Still Full of Wonder

Crowds are gathering across the United States to watch tomorrow’s total solar eclipse. For months, excitement has been building. Small towns along its path have swollen in population, tents have been pitched in the path of the umbra, and eclipse chasers are poised to witness this celestial event.

“Totality begins in Oregon at 10:16 a.m. PT. It ends in Charleston at 2:48 p.m. ET. That’s only about 90 minutes for the eclipse to cross the entire county….The path of totality follows just a tiny sliver 67 miles wide as it runs from coast to coast.” – www.usatoday.com

map of Aug. 2017 eclipse

“The last time that a total solar eclipse crossed over the entire continental United States was in 1918” (www.newsweek.com), and it will be another seven years before it happens again. “According to NASA, on April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will stretch diagonally across the U.S. from Texas through the Northeast.” www.Time.com

Though we view the eclipse with excitement, throughout history the sudden darkness instilled terror and dread. It portended disaster, great calamity, and even the end of the world.

Medieval day darkening

“Many ancient cultures worshipped the sun and the moon [and] a violent and sudden darkening of the sun was a cause for alarm and foreboding. Several East Asian cultures believed the eclipse was caused by a giant frog eating the sun, and in China, myths tell of a dragon doing the devouring, [while] in Norse mythology, the eclipse was the result of two sky wolves chasing and finally eating the sun.” – www.newsweek.com

Later, centers of learning used science to explain the mysterious event.

Fascinating facts about solar eclipses and our place in the universe:

  1. “Our position in the universe is incredibly unique. Our moon is the only moon in the entire solar system that eclipses the sun perfectly.” – history.com
  2. “By cosmic chance, the sun is 400 times wider than the moon, and 400 times farther away.” And so from Earth, the sun and moon appear to be the same size. – nationalgeographic.com
  3. “There is a solar eclipse somewhere on earth every year or two.” – nationalgeographic.com

 

Perhaps the most remarkable fact about an eclipse is that we still stand in awe of it. It forces us away from our phones and jobs, our tight schedules and day-to-day concerns, and reminds us of our tiny place in the magnificent universe.

An eclipse gives us a moment like the one in the illustration of the Medieval scholar poking his head outside of Earth’s realm: and we gasp and throw out our arms in stunned amazement as we catch a glimpse of a much wider world.

colored illustration

 

 

 

The Shakespeare Garden in Central Park

SG fence and flowers

Central Park is full of many beautiful places, but for tranquility and loveliness, the Shakespeare Garden is the place to go. It’s located near the Delacorte Theatre where the Shakespeare in the Park series is held every summer. Much of the interest in the sloping four-acre garden comes from the winding stone paths and rustic wooden benches and fences than run through the garden. At the foot of the hill is the Swedish Marionette Theatre, and at the top, the Belvedere Castle. Nestled between is the intimate Shakespeare Garden.

Shakesphere_Gardens_-_Central_Park_NYC_-_panoramio

“What had formerly been known as the Garden of the Heart was, in 1916, renamed the Shakespeare Garden to mark the 300th anniversary of the William Shakespeare’s death.” (centralpark.org)

Plaque SG

The garden is beautiful at all times of year. In the spring, brightly colored bulb flowers line the fences, and surround the Swedish Marionette Theatre.

The fall and winter have their own seasonal beauty. I used the Shakespeare Garden for a scene in Christmastime 1942, where Edith and her Shakespearean actor, Desmond Burke, stroll through the snowy garden.

But the garden is at its most glorious in summer, when it matures into full bloom. In mid-August the lush green of the garden is crowded with purple and white phlox, pink roses, yellow daisies, white lilies, and purple cone flowers.

Thistles, ivy, vines, and herbs also bloom, and there are several trees that cast their shade over the benches and paths. The heat releases the garden’s scents, both sweet and pungent, and the air is alive with bees and butterflies in search of summer sweetness.

Away from the sounds of traffic, and with its sundial and bronze plaques with quotes from Shakespeare, it’s easy to imagine stepping out of time, and into a much older garden. The perfect place to read a book, or have a quiet conversation with a friend, or just to enjoy the beauty of a summer day.

lilies

Spoken by Oberon, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2, Scene 1

“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.”

Summer Reading

picnic basket and book

Part of the allure of summer comes from the assumption that we will make more time for reading. Whether at the beach, on a park bench, at an outdoor cafe, or in the shade of a leafy tree, a good book can further enrich the long days of summer.

Below are a few quotes that encourage us to get lost in a good rummer read:

“An hour spent reading is one stolen from paradise.” – Thomas Wharton

books and clock on grass

“A book is a dream that you hold in your hand.” — Neil Gaiman

“There is no frigate like a book, to take us lands away.” — Emily Dickinson

beach book

“A book is like a garden, carried in the pocket.” — Chinese Proverb

May the rest of your summer be full of dreams and frigates and gardens.

books and grass

Summer — in The Christmastime Series

5 Kate's farm summer trees fence.jpg!d - Copy

Summer. A languid time of year that seems to move more slowly than the other seasons. Perhaps because the days are longer, or perhaps because many people are on vacation and the children are out of school, or perhaps because more time is spent outside, it is a rich time of year that creates indelible memories.

 

Memories of summer occasionally surface for some of the characters in my WWII Christmastime series, where most of the action is set in the cold and snow of December.

 

Though the stories take place on the home front, mostly in New York City, the events of the war shape the characters’ lives, making them fearful, anxious, and dreading the unknown. Adding to the tension are the attacks that take place in December — Pearl Harbor in 1941, and the surprise German counter-offensive in December 1944 that began the Battle of the Bulge.

For these characters, summer memories of a gentler and safer time soften the harsh realities of  war-time living. They remember bike rides along country roads, gathering garden flowers to place on the kitchen table and in bedrooms, afternoon picnics, a moonlit swim.

 

One memory in particular evokes the beauty and longing of late summer. In Christmastime 1941, Charles takes Lillian and her two sons to visit his sister Kate, who lives on a farm in Illinois. Lillian and Kate sit on the farmhouse porch in the late afternoon.

Lillian helped Kate finish the laundry, and then sat with her on the front porch, shucking corn for dinner.

 

A beautiful August day surrounded them in all its fullness and simple charm. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves high in the pin oaks, and fluttered the laundry on the clothes line, causing the white billowing sheets to snap softly now and then. The wide porch surrounded them with views of the corn and soybean fields stretching to the horizon. To the east stood a cluster of tall trees, their leaves a dark, dusty, late-summer green, with some leaves already edged in brown. And before them, Kate’s flowers along the lane – a tall tangle of orange, yellow, white, and blues – tiger lilies and daisies, cornflowers and asters.

 

Lillian lifted her face to catch the afternoon breeze, and caught the scent of honeysuckle that covered the fence along the lane. 

 

The wind alternately muffled and then sharpened the sounds of Tommy and Gabriel playing horseshoes with Kate’s sons: dull thuds as the horseshoes fell on the earth, clinks of metal as they hit their mark or landed on each other, mixed with clapping, laughing, good-natured disputing. Lillian had felt suffused with a sense of well-being, surrounded by an earthy loveliness.

2 clover in sunlight

Afternoon picnics, gardens in bloom, ripe fruits and vegetables, lush trees and fields — summer is the time of year when some of our strongest memories are born.