Surely family schedules had more to do with it than the less whimsical shifts of nature, but New England’s famed “foliage season” had a mythical quality, when I was still an adolescent Jersey boy. Actually, “mythical” is not quite right, because I’d had some experience of it and, of course, New Jersey lacks neither trees nor seasons. But in our periodic visits to my grandfather’s house in southern Vermont, it seemed we were typically disappointed to find either that the trees had not yet begun to turn or had already moved past their most florid days.
This autumn, I’ve been working alternately on job sites in Little Compton, Tiverton, and Newport, so I’ve had almost daily experience with that certain quality of light shining off water and through leaves that seem only more fully alive in the shades of their dying. Turn a corner or overtake a hill at just the right moment and your face contorts and breath constrains in the same sensation that accompanies — as the cliché advises — setting free the one you love in the hopes that she or he will return more surely yours.
Now we enter the long gray season of chills and ruddy cheeks. Sweaters and the felt knowledge that the sun will view us only askance. There’s no need for despondence in that forecast. Even apart from the holidays scheduled as lighted way stations through the late fall and winter — Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, St. Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day — the season has its unique sense and, therefore, justifies daily gratitude that we are creatures of sensation.
The political parallels to be found in our moment in Rhode Island history are obvious, but let it suffice for me to observe how wonderful a place the state is in which to live. Complain as we might about those with whom we must share it, worry as we do that the state demands an economic premium that translates into a daily struggle for many of us just to get by, we ought not wish away the time or fail to appreciate the moment that we’ve been given for the very simple reason that we’ve been given it, and the moment is ours.
On the coldest of days, what sets us aright is warmth, and the surest warmth comes from within. We can find it whether the opportunity flows over us as waves on the August shoreline or brushes our cheeks as fiery falling leaves or nips at our noses in crisp frozen air. The Earth laid bare is a sight to see, with the intricacies of stone and bark. Just so, our vulnerabilities dance in the air as smoke from strangers’ chimneys and the moist, visible heat that our breath dispenses as a message of the fire stirred by heart and lungs.