John Keats called this time a year the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.” He did so in one of the most beautiful poems in the language. Here in our volcanic rocks in the mountains, though, time often follows more wayward paths. Sometimes it moves forward one day at a time, from birth in the spring to beauty in the summer, maturity in the Autumn, and solemnity and loss in winter. Sometimes, though, it follows different paths. There are, for example, filberts. For them, this is not the end of the year, but its beginning:
This bush will carry these male flowers through the winter’s snows. For it, snowfall, ice, and blue cold is actually spring weather.
Behind it, sumacs turn red and amplify the rays of the fall sun, as if it were streaming from within their leaves themselves.
Thoreau didn’t. He pointed out that the fruits of trees were modified leaves, and if we wanted to understand fruitfulness we would be best to look at the bright leaves of fall themselves and see in them the same ripeness, rather than a falling away. Thoreau was writing this essay in 1862. He died of tuberculosis before he could finish it.
Finishing it is up to us.
The Okanagan Institute is launching Next Okanagan Magazine tomorrow in Penticton. That’s 7 pm., Thursday 27 October 2011, Shatford Centre, 760 Main Street, Penticton. Go here to reserve a spot, or show up with a smile and maybe an apple or a bright red leaf in your pocket. My essay “Caraway and Pippins” is in the magazine, the second in my series taking up where Thoreau left off. It tells the tale of the Newtown Pippin (scroll down through her sisters, here), a hard, late season apple from New York, and of the men who grew it. Apples that ripen at Christmas, long after they are picked, are another way of measuring time.
Here in the Okanagan, our literary roots are English and American all at the same time. To write from that, we begin with that and strike out on our own. Like these deer stepping out into the glory that is the bones of summer grass:
In the Grasslands, Seasons Tell a Story of Water and Light
It is different for each species. For each, it is a different time on earth.
That’s the point.