In my neighborhood, the colorful part of autumn was late and leisurely. Every year the leaves go from green to mostly gold, and this year, for days on end, the slightest breeze set them fluttering to the ground, whirling and sparkling like fat yellow snowflakes in the late afternoon sun. But now, the trees are growing bare. The rain and the wind of the last couple of days have done their accustomed work. There are drifts of leaves raked to the curb waiting for pickup, and less orderly piles in the street. A few trees will retain a few leaves for a while, and the drifts of leaves will retain some color, but not for long. Gray and brown naturally follow gold and red. Within a couple of weeks will come a time for which Midwesterners have no name, but which is known in New England as the “locking time,” a fine and evocative term for the period between the end of colorful autumn and the first snowfall.
October is a locking time of its own, when we’re caught between what was and what is, and between what is and what is going to be, between what might have been and what has to be.
None of these is automatically an excuse for melancholy. We can be grateful when what is puts us in a better place than what was, or we can be hopeful that what’s going to be will improve on what is. We can celebrate ways in which we’ve escaped fate—what might have been—and ended up where we belong.
But to dwell on losses in October is natural. We watch gold and red turn to gray and brown; we feel the chill returning. Autumn is not a season of acquisition. Yes, this is the time when we bring in the sheaves, harvest the bounty that will sustain us through the winter—but we do it because the fields are dying. We are making the best of what has to be.
I watch the birds fly south across the autumn sky
And one by one they disappear
I wish that I was flying with them
Now you’re not here
Justin Hayward’s “Forever Autumn” is a song I’ve mentioned here before. Unlike other songs, the ones that moisten my eyes and make me briefly unable to speak, “Forever Autumn” is capable of turning me into a sobbing puddle of goo.
“Forever Autumn” is the sound of longing for every cherished thing we’ve ever lost—family members, friends, lovers, innocence, potential, whatever we miss the most. It takes what are usually fleeting wishes the rest of the year and turns them into urgent needs. It calls up the shades of the past, who crowd around us and whisper, “We remember . . . and we miss you, too.”
One of life’s biggest lessons is that we must let go that which has to go. “Forever Autumn” reminds us how hard that lesson is.