Reflections on the seasons of our mortality, by L. E. Taylor
Fall comes early to my home state. It’s a fact of life’s rhythm that we carry with us wherever we roam.
Driving north out of Ann Arbor in August with the summer sun behind you, it’s not unusual a couple of hours out to suddenly spy a patch of red leaves high up on the deep green of a passing forest.
For a mile or so you work to reengage your denial of what that means. ‘Nipped by a freak night frost,’ you think. ‘Must be the lake effect,’ you mutter.
Inland seas on three sides define and temper our two peninsulas. Air off the fresh deep water cools and hydrates in the summer, moderates the frozen inland in winter. The bracing harshness of ever changing elements can invigorate and nourish. Then again, too much of any good thing can also kill you. In life as in poetry, that’s where the drama lives. The risk of joy too soon. Of inevitable disappointment.
‘Seasoning’ is an apt word for the wisdom we acquire along our way.
Thanksgiving has been a favorite holiday of mine since childhood. Cozy warmth in a candle- and hearth-lit house, jammed with young moms and dads and kids with a World War just over-with, a future ahead of them, and much to be thankful for. The cliché always dwells on the turkey and stuffing and cranberries; the pies and the glorious fragrance of it all.
I, outlier that I am, tend to remember instead the primal contrast of a warm, safe home secure against the bleak November winds that threatened, always out there howling but never gaining entry. Praise God.
One of the best of those Thanksgivings blessed me not as a child but as the father of two nearly grown teens, as the brother of a young Navy veteran with two of his own, and as the son of a gloriously young and funny 65 year old Mom. One late November, we were our family’s only survivors of loss and disappointment, of failures both unavoidable and self-imposed. We had decided to trundle ourselves Up North to gather in a modern retreat where I used to own a condo. It was tucked into a great native-growth forest of pines and cedars right on the dune-fed shore of the “Big Lake.”
The drive up began in a steely overcast. A two-car caravan held the folks and the supplies. Snowflakes began as soon as the night came. Soon dense flurries swirled hypnotically past our headlights. Just two hundred more miles to go, give-or-take.
Still rollicking in high spirits, our two carloads finally crunched through the untracked snow of a winding forest road and we came to a halt before the darkened summer retreat, now silent witness to the winter’s first snowfall.
We had landed.
The silence was palpable. Even as powerful lake winds troubled the giant pines overhead, the building itself shielded our merry band and baffled the roar of storm and surf as we trudged through the drifts to our door. Quickly the ancient midnight woods echoed with honest, rowdy gaiety, produced mostly by the youngest and the oldest of the last of the Taylors.
The Thursday feast, home cooked with everyone either helping or staying out of the way, was wonderful. The blizzard howled steadily out of the northwest, straight off the Lake. Next day, we drove the deeply plowed state road further north to “Fish Town”. We bought fresh caught white fish for dinner and smoked lake trout for Saturday lunch.
Firewood was stacked and sheltered outside so the hearth was always going. Nearly the entire western wall was of glass; tracked doors floor to ceiling. We kept them ajar for the pure air and as draft for the fireplace. The view framed the wild dark sea, an ever-present context to our doings. Even in the full black of night, we could step out onto the deck and in the moonless void could make out fearsome white-caps rolling in and crashing on the beach. We played poker and gin rummy. The youngsters, each bright with their own quirks and personalities, read and entertained each other. I don’t recall any television, but it must have been there. Somewhere.
As I revisit that November thirty years ago, I’m heartened. With years of bleak winters and lazy summers and crisp autumns in my wake, I’m reassured that much was learned from the dramatically changing seasons that would have been diminished without them. Summer is a brief chimera; winter, the norm. Live with it.
Notes & references.
Hemingway, Ernest; The Short Stories; Scribner; New York
- The Three Day Blow (one of the “Nick Adams” stories)
Hemingway, Ernest; A Moveable Feast; Scribner; New York
Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald (ballad; performer: Gordon Lightfoot)