When autumn rolls in this Tuesday, I know just what I'm going to do. I will fold the top down on our little BMW, pop in that old particular tape, and head out on a drive through the windy Connecticut backroads. The air will be a little cooler and the trees will begin to sway more freely, like withering half-dressed skeletons against the night.
I'll press play, and be greeted by the repeat of ten strumming chords, the same ones that will play the melody of a him and myself, dancing- in the kitchen, on the porch, in the lawn under the great tree with the dripping iron candelabra. Turning and turning in the golden light knees knocking calves, elbows across shoulders, until the song breaks into those four deliciously picked notes. The same picked notes that I savored years earlier, lying on my back on the rug under the stereo, an eight-year old romantic with toes that swayed in the hazy waltz of the living room light.
Neil Young, "Harvest Moon." The album with the haunting cover of a dark silhouette and fringe across the water's edge. The song that made me yearn for the crackling fire, the hush of the woods, and the smell of burning gourds. The images that reminded me that, for all I ever believed myself to be a child of the summer, I was born under the stars of that flipped autumn sky.
"The Harvest Moon" is a pumpkin and spice cupcake crowned with a cream cheese buttercream. It is the most simple taste of autumn - in the flesh of the fruit, the cinnamon, the ginger, the nutmeg, all topped in a sweet cream - that evokes the unmistakable yearning for no other season but this. Leaves sauntering through the sky. The heavy crooked arms of apple trees bending to the ground in an abundant plie. The shifting patterns of birds as they take flight to their winter homes. The autumn dance.
It's not the fairest of the seasons, but it's the one that makes us remember what it means to be alive. It reminds us that seasons come and seasons go, and it's the going that makes the coming all worthwhile in the end. The sun rises and the sun sets. Flowers bloom and leaves fall. We run free in the summer and we hold each other tighter all winter long. Life is both up and down, and as we see the turning of the days, the moon fades from white to orange and hangs lower in the sky. We are never really ready for the fall, but when it arrives, like Neil says, we remember the dance.
It was a blustery January day when I first walked around the perimeter of the Cliffwalk. Three and a half miles of stone path against the bluffs of a New England shore. It was wild, gray and cold, but somehow I felt warm, a feeling I attributed to either being in love, or an inevitable human reaction to standing where the icy path meets the trembling ocean surf.
Growing up, we're always told that life isn't about the desination, it's about the journey along the way. But as I get older, I keep thinking about the chapters in my life as little paths of their own. Occasionally, a path is unclear. At times it's even a dead end. But sometimes, if I'm lucky, when I stand at each destination, which might not come until days, months, or even years later, I see the path clearly.
"The Cliffwalk" is a rocky road cupcake, chocolate and with bits of marshmallow and chopped walnuts, topped with a vanilla buttercream and chocolate chunk. Chocked full, messy, a bit precarious, it's an undoubtedly decadent disaster.
A year and a half later, I stood alone at the start of that same shoreline path on a sun-soaked July day. It was near evening, and the sea breeze was surprisingly cool, so I sat behind a shield of cerulean hydrangeas, dripping from a run while the others had fallen into an afternoon slumber back home. They were friends, acquaintances, and one veritable soul sister, brought together by as much a constellation's turn as the decision to just not give a shit about making sense of it all. Though I had been there before, I felt no déjà vu.
You see, people and places come into our lives for a reason, and they leave our lives for a reason as well. These parts of the journey, the entries and the exits, aren't always smooth. And so we fixate - on the various paths, on the potholes, and on the crumbling spackle we've used to cover the cracks as we go. We forget that we control the direction of our feet and the strength to regain balance when we trip. We close our eyes and get the hell out of there, without realizing that there might be some really great things left to see.
The truth is, life is one rocky road. As I stood there that summer day at the start of the Cliffwalk, by choice and by fate, I took my first steps on a new path on Aquidneck Island. And I remembered that whatever beauty I might find at the end of the road was rolling against the horizon to my left all along.