As we were creeping at a guarded 35 MPH down the slippery highway yesterday amid blowing snow on our way home from my sister’s house, sixty miles away, I forgot to say goodbye to autumn. I didn’t remember that the Winter Solstice arrived today, in spite of the fortuitous timing of the storm that roared up the east coast. Even as we gasped in pleasure upon arriving home to discover that some plowing angel had taken a whack at the twelve inches of snow covering our driveway, I forgot that fall was over.
I am big at acknowledging departures, in that I need to, no, have to recognize them. As testimony to this, one of the diaries that I have stuffed into the back of my closet contains a page written just before midnight on the eve of my 17th birthday. The entire sheet is covered with the number “16” as I attempted to ring out the digits like a wet towel, to use them all up before I turned a year older. I still do that, although not on paper. My husband laughs, but reminds me to chant the last vestiges of my age before we go to bed the night before my birthday, adding the final drops of liquid as the current year swirls down the drain.
Nostalgia swarms over me at the end of each school year. As regular as the phases of the moon, a lump grows in my throat on the last day of classes as I realize my daughter will not be in sixth grade, in middle school, an eight grader, a sophomore, ever again. And I remain unfinished, un-chewed and undigested when people leave me unexpectedly. To this day, I grieve my college friend who passed away suddenly, but also remember with angst the buddy who merely drove home at the end of a term without telling me, because she didn’t want to say goodbye.
As with all kinds of endings, I typically acknowledge the exodus of the seasons. So even though due to the distraction of yesterday’s first snow I’m a day late, here goes.
Goodbye autumn. Goodbye yellows and reds and the fusty crunch of leaves, acorns that pummel us in the backyard, the flocks of starlings crowding our trees in the mustard color of vintage afternoons. Goodbye to the pine cones that pile on our yard from the monster bottle brushes towering out front, to the hills of pumpkins and gourds mounding in nurseries by the side of the road. Goodbye to crisp mornings that warm in the afternoon, to drifting sea smoke fogging the pond when cold air hits warm water, to the sharp crack as teeth bite through the skin of a just-picked Macintosh.
I couldn’t cope if I didn’t know that these hard-swallowing goodbyes are chased by ensuing hellos—today, it’s the white crotched shawl tossed with abandon on the earth, the reflection of the sun that makes us tear up and long for sunglasses. Soon enough, it will be to the squeak of boots on icy earth, stars that pinwheel closer in frozen air, to the snap and dry burn of the fire after you throw off your gloves and reach your hands in close. Hello to days that are growing, of dawns that begin an infinitesimal moment sooner, a sun that hangs on a purple horizon a shade longer before plummeting us to blackness. Hello to the yell of hockey players, the slap of the puck, the smooth square of an ice rink shoveled out from frosted banks.
And, hello to edge of the year that fades out like a cinema ending but deep down holds tight to a kernel, the bud of a beginning, the nub of new life, wrapped like a breakable ornament gripped carefully in a snow covered palm.