Autumn slips into place without a sound. One leaf, then another changes color. Concentrations of green break down into red and yellow. At first glance, I wonder, is that tree diseased? On succeeding days, the contagion spreads to an entire stem, then a branch. Like chameleons, leaves drain their dominant shade, which transform into radiant hues.
Autumn slips forward with the quiet magic of chemistry. Daylight declines and temperatures cool. The mask of chlorophyll falls away. Underlying pigments in the leaf reveal themselves. They blend to create brilliant orange and reddish colors along with deep multi-shaded browns. Silently, the season tattoos foliage with melancholy.
Autumn slips in under the cover of summer’s forest fires. It infiltrates the canopy of deciduous trees while smoke filled skies distract our attention. The sun’s glow softens, diffused by the particulate in the air. It gilds the horizons with glamour and a tule fog of tragedy besmirches the streets of Hood River.
The scenic Columbia River Gorge burns with ferocity this year. The fire, fueled by dry timber and strong wind, leapt from 4,000 acres to 33,000 acres in the first five days of September. I grieve for the destruction of forest land. The reckless behavior of a few hikers ruined habitat and caused the death of a multitude of small animals.
Initially, the fire headed west. Then, the wind shifted. It grew at a deliberate pace, moving in a southeast direction, and headed our way. Then, again, the wind shifted the blaze back upon itself. The fire continues to burn but its growth slows. For now, we can relax a bit. Weather forecasts are favorable.
It seems, though, no matter where we are, something is always headed our way. The fury of hurricanes in Texas and Florida, and the Eagle Creek fire in Oregon made for a hellish beginning to autumn. These are American catastrophes. Elsewhere, however, destructive incidents persist: famine, disease, wars in Syria and Myanmar.
Solace resides in the machinations of the natural world. The routine, the inevitability of seasonal change occurs in spite of our behavior. The winter inherent in fall’s splendor; the rebirth and growth of spring immanent in the bitter dormancy of January. An underlying balance exists. Yet we seem at odds with the process. We interfere and, like a serious illness, we threaten the host which supports us.
Autumn slips forward into an unknown future, propelled by the past. It quietly changes everything. We age with each season. We order our lives, we prepare for the good and bad. Harmony surrounds us. But often, our eyes close. We lose balance and the wonder slips away.