Wild geese fly overhead. Raptors soar a level above, dots in the high sky, moving south. The gardens give way to chrysanthemums, and it’s goodbye to tomatoes, wildflowers, roses. Hello to orchards, gnarled apple trees heavy with fruit, slow bees drunk on nectar, dancing in figure-eights above bushels of Macouns. Whole flocks of dusky, crested, masked Cedar waxwings descend on the crabapple tree just outside my professor friend’s window. The days grow shorter, and darkness comes early. Sunsets are vivid and brilliant. The stars and planets seem brighter without summer’s haze. Night walks bring the smells of fallen leaves and sweet fruit. The trees are bright with eyes: a raccoon family huddled on a high branch, a screech owl with its crazy call, a “backwards whinny” in the words of a poet friend.
Autumn turns the cats sleepy and cozy. I buy stacks of books and read with cats all around me. Fall makes me want to write letters. Not emails or facebook messages: real letters on stationary, pages and pages. The desire dates back to childhood’s summer’s end, when our beach friends would go back home for the winter, and nothing seemed more important than staying in touch—keeping the connection and closeness going.
New York City seems made for fall. New exhibits open at museums and galleries. Abstract Expressionism at MOMA includes paintings of one of my great favorites, Agnes Martin. In November, another favorite, Linden Frederick, will have a show at the Forum Gallery. The theater season begins, and I have a list of plays I want to see.
Walks in Central Park, my favorite haunts: the Ramble, Poets’ Walk, the North End, Pinetum. The leaves change color, reflecting in the Reservoir, the Lake, Conservatory Water. When they fall, the bare branches turn smoky black and you know Thanksgiving isn’t far off.
When I was a young New Yorker, the Halloween parade was a ragtag collection of incredibly creative, homemade spooky and hilarious costumes. It took a different path, through the Village’s narrow side streets, rather than the highly publicized wide-swath it cuts down the Avenue today.
My favorite long-ago New York Halloween moment: standing on West Tenth Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, watching the townhouses on the street’s south side. Several brownstones share a single ornate wrought iron balcony. Those years, the houses were occupied by young families. The mothers and daughters put on a pageant that still gives me shivers when I think of it.
The mothers dressed up as mediums and fortune tellers, wearing jewel-colored long skirts, scarves, and turbans. They’d stand on the balcony calling out to the spirits: “Summoning Miss Interpretation!” they’d intone, and a little girl fairy-child would come pirouetting out a door onto the balcony. “I’m Miss Interpretation!” she’d sing.
The fortune teller-mothers would call “Miss Apprehension,” “Miss Understood,” “Miss Aligned,” and many more. And one by one the little girls would come twirling out, trailing scarves, announcing her arrival.
Orchards, owls, bright eyes in the night, a bevy of spirits, the city coming back to life, the countryside vibrant with change. Those are my autumn wishes for you. And if you pick up a new book to read and tumble into a letter-writing binge, so much the better.