September has gone with the last summer tourist packing up and leaving Lake Malone to the perennial residents. The October evenings has a blister moon which hangs over the countryside of drawn fields and rolls out its silent mercurous sheen, a lambency over lake and land.
The shocks of brown corn, waving ribbons in the late breeze, stand like a row of fat chorus girls on autumn’s stage with the pumpkins’ lights at their feet. The opossum sneaks around fences, on his way to find chickens packed in tight sleep on sassafras poles tiered in the chicken house. Somewhere left of the lake, a car horn sounds and a dog barks three times, hoarse and frosty; vapor fogs from its throat. Then all is silent except for the pounding memories of autumns past and great expectations of autumn present.
This year’s autumn is warm; its doors open to reveal flames of reddening sumac and dogwood, the first to color before the frost. Soon chips of maples leaves, bitter and yellow, fall into the creek and branches already still and black awaiting latish rains that will turn them quick and shiny- turbulent over brown pebbles and mosses crumbly and gray at the edges.
Cows, fat from summer, now diet on dried grass- their half-grown calves weaned and wandering in herds of their own. Joe Pye weeds vie for recognition along with a few stray goldenrod and cattail bursting with fuzz. October touches everything, soon burning black the woods and scorching chestnut and oak. During the night, wind shakes fruit from the parent trees. Acorns hit the roof like hailstones. The next morning squirrels hasten to the harvest. Jaws filled with their hoard, they flick to deep pantries where the winter’s wealth is stored.
Old men and children rake leaves to burn in the late evening. The acrid smoke fills eyes, stains the clothes, and tells fortunes as the children stand near the burning piles to chant “smoke follows beauty.” It is another signal of autumn as it rests languidly against the north woods then floats away like worn-out euphemisms.
The sun has warmth left over from summer. The cat finds it near the woodshed door and lies in slumber, belly up, front paws curled over its white chest. Bees, ousted from the hive, hunt nectar in the ragged morning glory until evening light drives them to the tall grass at the edge of the land. Birds twitter excitedly in the shedding elms. They gathered here last spring house-hunting. Now, they are talking of going before the north winds take the remaining foliage.
At night, boys hide under piles of quilts- the flashlight shinning on pages of high adventure as they read to the sounds of autumn swooshing through trees and rattling window panes. A field mouse pulls away the last layer of sheetrock and curries under the sink where it finds, at last, a winter haven of warmth and crumbs.
Firewood of oak, elm and hickory is stacked in the shed and on the back porch. The heater gives off a warm shield, and the house settles into the October frost-filled night. Dreamy with good memories of a past summer and thoughts of autumn’s furnace sensuous and bright with color, the Lake poets sleep.