The air is cool and heavy, the sky overcast. A crow caws, and I hear it through the open window. This morning when I sat here, I watched a V of Canada geese fly through the flat grey sky. Their honks echoed off the mountains in the fog.
On Saturdays, our daughter has swim practice about 20 minutes from our house. I used to go to a coffee shop or read on the bleachers at the aquatic center while she swam, but those aren’t options during the pandemic. So today I loaded my phone with a short story, pulled on a baseball cap to keep my glasses dry in the drizzle, and walked along the Huckleberry Trail, a local 7-mile paved trail for cyclists and pedestrians.
I listened to Tommy Orange read Louise Erdrich’s “The Years of My Birth.” The story was a perfect accompaniment to a cool misty stroll in Appalachia. Erdrich’s writing is organic. It is both humic and crisp, and she weaves together nature and spirit and the human soul. I’ve read a few of her novels, but my favorite work of hers is a short story, “The Stone,” published earlier this year. It’s mysterious and potent and feels like it comes from the belly of the earth.
Under the canopy of oaks and pines, a spray of goldenrod hugged a damp tree stump. The trees are still green — they have not started bronzing yet — but as I walked, a single yellow leaf drifted down onto the path. I crunched through a smattering of fallen leaves, and their musty forest scent curled into my nose.
In the wet air, when I crossed the railroad tracks, I smelled the tarry odor of creosote. Where the trail was open to the sky, goldenrod and ironweed lined the path in sprays of pollen yellow and grape juice purple. Pale violet asters collected mist at their knees.
But the thing that got me was the acorn. When I crossed the railroad track, I felt something the size of a marble crunch underfoot. I looked down and saw several smashed nuts, ground to bursts of yellow dust on the paved trail. A squirrel scrambled across the path. A couple of steps later, I saw an intact green acorn, complete with its jaunty stemmed cap, and I knew fall would be here soon.
Now I’m back home, in jeans and bare feet. Our windows are open, and through the back screen door, black-eyed Susans wave in a mass of 3-inch suns on stems. The mums are thigh-high now, and their once green mounds are now masses of deep red blooms. Tangerine zinnias pop bright orange on this grey day, and our own sprays of goldenrod burst like fireworks down the hill.
The Joe Pye weed and sedum and echinacea blush pink but will soon fade to brown. When the echinacea drop their petals, the goldfinches will come and perch on the dried seed cones. Small bright bundles of yellow, the little birds will sway on long stems. I don’t want summer to end. But the goldfinches on the echinacea are one of my favorite things about my garden. If summer has to end, seeing them bob on spindly coneflower stems makes it a tiny bit easier to bear.