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Down by the Riverside


     As fall deepens, and only a few tattered asters still bloom along the roadsides, I am beset with a sense of loss. Even the goldenrod is mostly gone from the meadow. Walking in the autumn woods, I remember the abundance of wildflowers here in May, flowers that covered the slope down toward the river and blanketed the upland hills. Little white cups with a circlet of yellow stars as far as the eye could see: wood anemone. Spring beauty was scattered profusely, too, with its veined, pale pink petals and lance-like leaves. Marsh marigold squatted in a little stream, water flowing around the green and gold island that it made. And don't forget the tender, waxy trillium nestled at the base of a black walnut tree.

     When I got home from my springtime hikes, I would pore over the photos on my phone and make lists of what I'd seen, counting colors and petals and leaves in a glory of acquisition, like my mother-in-law who would fling open the doors to her china cabinet so we could see the carefully-painted details on her collection of Hummel figurines.   

     I want that sense of abundance back.

     It doesn't help that many of my peers are experiencing other losses: of parents or property or mobility or health. And while retirement brings us freedom, with that freedom can come a loss of identity and meaning. Late in her life, my mother used to lament, "I don't know what my purpose is. Why am I still here?"

     I want the lushness of spring again, not only here in the woods, but also in my body that creaks and groans like the branches of trees above me as they rub against each other in the wind.

     Isn't this the lament of old age, wishing you could be twenty again, but with all the wealth and wisdom you have now? My husband, though, says he wouldn't go through young adulthood again, not for all the money in the world.

     Soon these maples just touched with color will turn all scarlet, and aspens will wear bright bangles of gold, like the glittering dresses of women in the Roaring Twenties. These turning leaves are a kind of wealth, I suppose, and even better than all my household goods, for  they require no Last Will and Testament, no instructions to my lawyer about distribution to my heirs. This deepening color does not need to be sorted, boxed, bagged, or loaded into a dumpster after I am gone.

     I remember one day in late October two years ago, when Ed and I were hiking at the Brighton Recreation Area, the brown tops of oak trees waved to us from a pewter gray sky. Yellow maples glowed in the valleys. A plush green brocade of moss cushioned my step. I reached down to touch the high gloss of a scarlet oak leaf, more richly burnished than any Chinese emperor's vase. And the pattern of leaves beneath my feet was more intricate and interesting than any ebony box inlaid with ivory. Aspen leaves were flung on the ground like gold coins from the blue velvet bag of the sky.

     With all this richness, what more did I need? I was wealthier than a queen.

     So, let me go out like these in a blaze of glory. Let autumn teach me about holding loosely and letting go. Let me scatter my gold on the hillsides and see how it shines.


Scripture: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these." – Matthew 6:29
Playlist: "Autumn Leaves," Eva Cassidy, Live At Blues Alley, 1996. 

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