O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day,
that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour!
That gaunt crag To crush!
To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough! Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this;
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart.
Lord, I do fear Thou hath made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.
Edna St. Vincent Millay
I was just telling my sister yesterday how utterly grateful I am to be close by three beautiful parks and gardens where I can escape the city while in the midst of it. So quiet and tranquil are they that whatever traces of depression or anxiety that had earlier lingered over my day, fade amid paths through camellias, oaks of every variety, still ponds where herons and egrets make their homes, and golden, warm late afternoon sunlight which enhances my moods and creates the perfect conditions for photographing all this sublime natural beauty. I often say to myself, “There are no other places I need.”
For the past two afternoons I’ve enjoyed these parks, bundled up yesterday in my heaviest coat and cap as the cold air descended. Not too, cold though, and just right for walking and taking g deep breaths, feeling alive and refreshed in mind sand spirit as only brisk cold air can do. This is what I love about winter in Charleston. It never gets too cold to enjoy being outdoors, but it gets cold enough at times to actually feel like winter.
As I began my trek through the woods at Hampton Park, I was surprised to see that there were still many colorful Autumn leaves on the Shumard oaks and oak leaf hydrangeas. I timed it perfectly and fortuitously. In another day or so they will mostly be gone, and all the deciduous trees will be bare. But we will still have the abundant green leaves of the live woks to help us see beyond the bare branches to this coming spring.
I was simply struck by wonder at Hampton Park. It reminded me of one of those Autumn calendar scenes of brilliantly red, yellow and orange leaves, colorfully and majestically lighting up the woods. I couldn’t believe it. I wondered why it seemed to impact me so strongly this year. It’s not like I haven’t seen the trees in this park similarly aglow in other years. In fact, I have a matted photograph of one of the park’s large Shumard oaks lit up in vivid red. The picture is from about five years ago.
I think Autumn this year is affecting me like spring does now that I can easily count down the remaining and April when I am able once again to wander in springtime among pink and white clouds of azaleas in bloom everywhere there or at Magnolia and Middleton Place gardens. It’s an annual time to savor the renewal of life everywhere, cool mild temperatures, sunny and cloud-filled skies, and that euphoric feeling that only spring in all its glory can bring.
And yet, while I know that this lovely tableaux of azaleas and daffodils will hopefully soon be greeting me, I paused these last few days of the year when autumn has slowed its march to winter, to contemplate the finiteness of each of the other seasons. I will be 73 in the middle of this coming spring.
I’m so thankful to have lived this long. But it’s autumn and winter now that have the most symbolic import for me. I am in the autumn of life, nearly finished with a lifetime’s work, and mellow and often wistful, sometimes depressed and weary during periods of sustained contemplation of every aspect of life as I have experienced it over the decades. I suppose I am trying too hard to pack the present with everything I want to read, learn, see, photograph, write about, and experience, and by do doing continually try to figure out where it’s all leading to. I don’t actually think about the future that much because it’s totally unknowable. What I have is this moment, this “now” in which I am thinking about and recording these words. This writing and my photography are all I have to leave behind for anyone who might want to know me more after I’m gone. There are no children or grandchildren to remember me. Hopefully, it would have been fondly. So I might just completely disappear from this plane of existence. But that’s not so bad. We all go out of this world alone, even if surrounded by the most loving of family members and friends.
Autumn is a burst of color and change in the landscape. Winter by contrast, is bare, and symbolic death passes over us and the land. It’s not final because in spring the earth will be reborn and carry new life into the hot, sultry sticky aliveness of summer. But when you get old, each season could be your last. All the more reason to be exuberant at the miracle of life.
As Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote, …Oh Lord, I do fear thou hast made the world too beautiful this year.
And inevitably, the somber words of Shakespeare in “Sonnet 73” give me more pause for thought on this cold, late winter night.
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
Autumn has lingered into winter at Hampton Park: