THE LAWSON’S PEAK BOOKS

Autumn

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. (Greek proverb)

Autumn, and nuances of October are in the air, flitting along with cool breezes and dry mornings. There are leaves dropping across my yard already, browning, flipping end-over-end across the lawn in joyful pirouettes.

Will it be an early winter? No one can know, but the dog stands in the yard, nostrils flaring and to paraphrase Leon Hale he “senses a change far earlier than we do. He’ll raise his head from a nap as if he’s been called, when no one has called him. He’ll go out in the side yard and point himself north and raise his nose and half-close his eyes and stand there a full minute, reading the air, finding out things, things that are far away and won’t happen for days.”

I look over the fingernail of land outside the house at the trees I’ve planted over the last four years. Sycamore leaves are already bounding roughly over the gentle gradient toward the bayou, rough-housing with each other as they go; the little oaks are still full, as are the persimmons and the ash. But the back of my truck is collecting pecan leaves like a kid with a scrapbook, and what pecans weren’t blown off by the last hurricane are beginning to fall. They hit the east roof of the house almost all day and night as squirrels start their harvest, often dropping a few in their hoarding duties.

Me? I am dreaming of wildness. Of knee-deep silence and the margins of the thin places.

Does environment have a physical effect on us? I certainly believe so. I do much more sitting than I should, my feet hurt and my back aches; my hips protest when I lie to long on them in my bed; I see the world through a veil that can only be lifted by open spaces and resonance. All these are the symptoms of civilization, the dystopian maladies of a careening world.

Oh! How I love autumn. October is my favorite month, and I feel like somehow I’ve had the marvelous good fortune of it arriving early. Like an early birthday, the scent and sound of October arrives barely detectable. But it is there. And with it comes the old calling: Of movement and of stock and store; of journeys and paths and roads; of rivers and streams and rain; of deep, dark forests and startled animals scurrying in the brush.

What does a man need, if a man is like me, when his shirts get too clingy and his shoes too tight? What do I do when I can day-to-day see the hue of my skin ease toward pallid and the white noise in my brain reach a wracking crescendo?

Head out. Far and away. Find October lurking in the nooks between tree roots, under overturned stones and carried along fast, chortling water.

What does man need, if a man is like me? Riches of green and a generous supply of time. I hate stagnation but relish growth; despise inactivity but flounder into laziness with the oppression of structure and order.

I planted trees, and I hope to live to sit under the shade of all of them. Two are already casting a great amount, my sycamores. The rest need some time.

That’s what a man needs, really. To plant a tree. Maybe not even a literal tree, though that would be ideal. A figurative tree would be good, too. A tree that will, if watered and nurtured, eventually yield something good in the world. Imagine it as rebellion against the concrete parking lots and the pane-glass windows.

While my trees are growing, I worry about them. When I am dead and gone, will someone come along and cut them down? I dug the holes with my hands and got blisters. I nursed them through two droughts, then picked up and replanted two of them after they were ripped out of the ground by hurricanes before they had set their roots deep enough to hold them solid. I fertilize them, I spray them for bugs when necessary…and if someone comes along after me and cuts them down, I don’t think my spirit will rest very easy. I’ve had one tree cut down; it was sick and dropping limbs. It was old, rotted inside, hollow. I had to do it. Broke my heart, though.

What nobler endeavor might a man undertake than to plant a tree?

If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.

― Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

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