Tag Archives: autumn


The shortening days of autumn lead to a galaxy of happy and warm associations in my mind.

Let me take you to the family farm in Whitefield, ME. I was afraid to leave my mom for overnight visits for a long time, but by the time I was six, I couldn’t get enough of the Homestead. We visited in all seasons, of course, but the fall and winter especially stand out in my mind.

Sometimes my grandparents would arrive at our house in Brunswick to pick us up. As the baby-blue Oldsmobile pulled into the driveway, my mom always said, “Look who’s here!” and my brother Eric and I would go nuts. Grandpa was always clad in forest green Dickies, and Grandma always had a mod ‘70s sleeveless polyester shirt and, in the coldest weather, a knit sweater. We would load into the Olds, bathe in the magnificent cigar smoke wafting through the interior, and we were off.

I always loved the sound of the turn signal, but it seemed sharper when it was cold out. The sound was a comforting “click-clock”, from C to F, like a large interior clock. But the rhythm was eighth notes, so the C had a bit more urgency: “CLICK-clock-CLICK-clock” rather than “CLICK-rest-clock-rest-CLICK-rest-clock-rest.” My sense of rhythm and tone may well have developed here.

My grandfather’s wood pile towered in the yard by the hen house, always big enough to climb our way to the top and observe our kingdom. We would play Nerf football on the leaf-strewn great lawn, with puffs of wood smoke from the stove hanging low, or play on the tractor in the tool shed, with the smell of sawdust, kerosene and WD40 melding in the crisp air.

The main event came when the light left the sky in the afternoon. The sunsets at the Homestead during the cold months, to this day, grip my heartstrings and leave me speechless.

There is something about a person coming inside during the cold months. The door opens and a blast of fresh chill follows, infused with the smell of cold, leaves, earth and the mission of the arriving person. My grandfather, after feeding the sheep, always carried the scent of the barn, hay, his work clothes, kitchen matches, wood smoke and cigar smoke. This remains a magical concoction in my mind.

After dark, with a fire roaring in the wood stove, we would gather in the living room. My grandfather would smoke his cigars, my grandmother would make Jiffy-pop, and we would watch the classics of the ‘70s and ‘80s: Vegas, Quincy, Dallas, Hill Street Blues, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, The Rockford Files, Alice, One Day at a Time. So we weren’t studying for the bar. But we were together and warm and happy.

As the days got colder, the pile of blankets on the beds upstairs got thicker. My grandmother would kiss us to sleep, and we were off to dream of breaking through coverage for touchdowns, playing a Les Paul through a wall of Marshall stacks at a sold-out Madison Square Garden and skiing or tobogganing from the edge of the woods to the house.

I was never warmer in my life than I was during those short cold days, but it all comes back to me every time I return to visit my parents in the old house on the farm.



Originally Published 10/13/2011

October: grey sky, silver and black clouds, the smell of the lawn, freshly mowed for the last time of the year and brilliant green against the red and gold of the foliage, wood smoke hanging low over the scrub. I walk through the chill, along the rock wall, to the wooden cross that marks your grave. On the other side of the wall is the old hay mower you used to chase when you were young and your life was never going to end. And the apple tree you used to scratch, now the place where you rest. I miss you so much. You left too soon! Left me alone, gasping against the pain and lost, without bearing. And I think of you hourly, desperately wishing I could pet you again, feel your fur, warm from the summer sun, again and play with you in the fresh grass of summer.

And now I’m alone as the killing frost spreads, and the long bitter winter approaches without you. You left too soon…

Originally Published: 10/10/2011

Photo Source: Library of Congress

The day was warm for fair season, but the breeze carried a heady mix of fried dough, cotton candy and the last swirls of the morning wood smoke. The speakers played “The Anniversary Waltz” and “(I’ll Be With You) In Apple Blossom Time”, mixing with the sounds of bells clanging, cows snorting and auctioneers calling. Roland Heath and his grandson Jack were taking it all in from the top of the Ferris wheel.

“See all them trees turning all them pretty colors out there, boy?” Roland said to Jack, spreading his hands in an arc. “A lot of them was just saplings when Ethan Allen and his boys was protecting this area from New York and the British. But they was there in the ground, a hundred and fifty years ago, just like they are now. What do you think about that?”

Jack, awed at being so high off the ground with such a view of the world, and as always awed by the strong presence of his grandfather, just smiled and stared out at the faraway hills. He had learned about Ethan Allen and his battles for the Vermont Republic in school. Jack imagined battles between the Green Mountain Boys and the British with their red coats on the hills, with big guns and cannons going off. And to think that they may have fought on those same hills by the same trees! Gee!

“Tell me more about Ethan Allen, Grandpa!” Jack yelped, unable to contain his excitement.

“Well, ain’t you a curious fella!” Roland exclaimed, patting his grandson on the knee and lighting a cigar as the Ferris wheel spun. “It all started when New York thought they owned some Vermont land and Ethan Allan thought they didn’t. He and his boys showed them New Yorkers a little what for! They also captured Fort Ticonderoga, so he want just a Vermont hero, he was an American hero.”

“What’s Fort…Ticonoga?” Jack asked.

Roland chuckled. “Ticonderoga! It’s in New York, just over the lake over there. The British ran it, and it was an important fort for them. But they lost it to Ethan Allan!”

The Ferris wheel was at the top again. Jack just kept staring out at the far hills and the rolling farmland, imagining long ago wars and the Green Mountain Boys fighting for Vermont, and wishing his grandfather would keep telling tales all day. He thought about being a soldier when he grew up, and he thought about being someone who knew about trees and how they turned color and all. Mostly he thought about growing up to be like his grandfather; strong and smart and gentle.

They got off the wheel, got bottles of Coca-Cola and cones of vanilla Fro-Joy and wandered over to the grandstand where the cows were being auctioned off. They sat on a bench, feet in the sawdust, and made the most of their day at the fair, in their own time.

Originally Published 10/06/2011

Photo Source: Brian Westbye

Twilight falls, ending the day. Lights come on, supper is served. Stories about the day just over, taillights, car wheels on a gravel road. Coffee and woodsmoke, the blue light of TV hitting the snow outside. Talk of dreams, plans, good books, drinks and pajamas and an extra blanket. Hot cocoa, hot cider. A story in every lit window, a story at every table. The day ends, the twilight wins. Time to come in, relax, say goodbye to the day just over…