I drank in the crisp air, thin and sharp like the bite of mint – the sting ran down my throat and lanced the belly of my lungs. A soft wisp of steam poured from my mouth like the smoke from a train piping through a bright valley morning. I could feel the heat lighting from the back of my neck, and from the tips of my ears, covered though they were by my soft, brown wool hat. I hugged my elbows closer to my ribs, squeezing the heat back into my core, smiling beneath the ineffectual sun as she shone bright but cold upon my face and upon the water of the pond.
A soft breeze scattered a fleet of dried leaves across the nascent ripples birthed on the sheer surface of the glass-smooth water. The sunlight bobbed and danced over the ridges, shooting crazed patterns like knives in the pumpkin and stone colored canopy above.
I stopped on the path, just before it ducked into the shade of the chattering maples and oaks. I listened in the quiet to the playful chattering of beech leaves on slender, elephant-smooth trunks. Those leaves would hang through the long, cold winter in fierce competition with the late oaks – the blissful ignorance of youth pitted against the reluctant willfulness of the ancient. I would merit from them both, happy animal that I was – free to meander through the light and shade, open to thought and motion so quick as to be ephemeral.
That day I squinted my eyes against the radiance of an October sun on the umber-cobalt sheet of the pond but I gazed through sheaves of years, back into memories of greenest grass and pique of buzzing midge. I looked not upon the gravel path, succumbing to the onslaught of falling leaves, but rather gazed into the shining eyes of a semicircle of storied faces, backlit with dreams and good intention.
My mind was not focused on the collective whispers of the forest leaves, nor on the mournful cry of walnut-gray geese resting before the continued push south. Instead I heard the soft strum of string, the guitar ringing free in the outside air, looking for wall and floor to spring from in echo, but finding only shining air and distant cloud. I no longer heard the soft lapping of frigid waves licking the edge of weathered hull, but instead my ears remembered the expectant hush of minds focused on myth and ceremony.
I stood complete and present in a time that was no longer present. Fully self-aware in a memory whose mutability my probing thoughts enhanced, I swayed beneath a closer sun, years away and a season apart. I could hear no words, nor see the detail of face nor of raiment. Yet I felt the mood, and bathed in the goodwill and expectation. We set aside there doubt and fear. We cast anger from ourselves like empty cloaks – it was not needed in that place we had built.
I knew the sun waned through twilight to evening in the vision. The untamable eye in the heavens replaced by man’s pet servant – fire, as she danced and kissed the sausages and vegetables, charring and caressing. And in the darkness we feasted, dancing and singing and smoking and drinking. With feet bare, and hearts open, we revelled in the togetherness of celebration, and we forgot of yesterday and of tomorrow, and of those things to come later. In that moment we were. Simple and fulfilled, we were.
A shiver ran through my toes, and I, as if from slumber awaking, became present again in the present. I stood, short pillar of gray and green against the racing brush of time, painting the world before me in maroon and brown and yellow. So slowly, and yet so very quickly, I counted year upon year stacking neatly behind me, ever pushing me wiser and older down the path towards rest and completion. I looked upon my world, pastoral beauty framed in billowing trunk beneath cloudless cold sky.
I looked and felt a stirring for the crafty peace of autumn, for smokey childhood days of heroism and timelessness. I watched a small boat trail glacially slowly across the pond, piloted by a passive silhouette of detailless suggestion. I felt the heat of the earth retreating slowly into the depths as if all of nature were drawing a hushed breath before slumber. I knew a wistfulness for the unbridled possibility of youth, and for the slow, deliberate wisdom of age. Within me stirred some primordial duality – the hope for newness and creation, married perfectly to the restfulness of death and darkness. I saw myself not as a part of the world, but rather as someone watching a world, a stranger catching a shadowy glimpse of a deeper truth that was so much larger and grander than I could comprehend. But I was so thankful for the symbolism, though I understood nothing of the meaning. I stood in awe, a child behind the discussion of kings and gods, lost and adoring, alone and insignificant – but complete.
I pulled the boots from my feet, and tucked my socks neatly inside. I placed the boots next to each other, resting to warm in the nearly cold rays of the sun. The earth beneath my feet was distant and cold. I did not feel grounded. Heat and life fled from my toes, evaporating in the cool dry air, feeling carried away by the breeze. The soles of my feet spoke of stones and twigs, but their voices were muted in the vacancy of my mind. I walked to the water’s edge, and felt the clear tongues of the waves as they lapped at my toes and ankles.
I drew a deep breath again, and closed my eyes. I spread my arms and tumbled into the icy blackness of the pond, the flame of consciousness extinguished by the icily merciless bite of the cold, dark water.