Autumn Interruptus

     The first frost has left my tomato plants as limp and useless as a Democrat’s backbone.
     Pardon me for drawing conclusions from a natural occurrence, but if there’s such a thing as a season for reflection, it’s fall in New England.
     Quick and piercing – and headed for trouble.
     In the darkness of winter some people get Seasonal Affective Disorder. A better name for it might be Seasonal Affects in their Proper Order.
     After the release and hope of spring, the endless lolling of summer and the melancholy beauty of autumn comes burrowing in for winter.
     Columbus Day weekend is the only time our little town in Vermont gets traffic. People from New York and Connecticut drive around and look at leaves, then go home where they belong.
     They’ll be disappointed this year – if mere beauty rather than overwhelming beauty is reason for disappointment.
     An April heat wave woke up all the plants two weeks early. Then a May frost punched them in the nose.
     The apples are early and the leaves turned early, but summer-long drought drained them of color. Back-road rows of oaks and maples that usually shoot through my brain like LSD are just brown and yellow now, losing leaves fast, fading to black under a gray sky. There’s an occasional tree red as a rocket, or orange as an excited arrow; there always are, but it’s not a good year for color.
     There’s enough of it – just barely – to lure me onto the roads on my bicycle, in ridiculous pants and chartreuse jacket, looking like an autumn being myself. But at my age – autumnal – it takes 6 miles just to warm up. By then I’m over the first hill, at the big pond, where the bears live.
     On a bright, clear day the air seems to hold more oxygen. But a fellow only needs so much oxygen. And when the wind blows, it takes the oxygen away. Or so it seems.
     The sun doesn’t really heat a guy up anymore, low in the sky. Its rays don’t reach long stretches of road anymore, slanting through the pines, in what not so long ago were sunny lanes of summer.
     Now I pedal now through shadows at 2 p.m. Or sit home and stare out the window like a cat, as 49-degree rain falls straight down, relentless, hour after hour, no gusts, no let-up, no breaks in the clouds, not even clouds, just one flat, enormous, enveloping cloud: a bureaucrat’s rain.
     Light is fleeing as grayness inhabits our world. Smell of distant woodsmoke.
     On a bright day now, when one comes, you have to hurry. Get out there on the road before the sun sinks. Whip through those corners, haul butt up the hills, keep those pedals spinning; keep the melancholy thoughts of autumn away.
     Churning through a workout, trying to think wise thoughts about autumn, I ran into a sign of summer. A wasp flew through a hole in my helmet and stung the bejeezus out of the top of my head.
     I know it was a wasp because when a bee stings, it rips the stinger out of the little guy’s abdomen and he dies.
     As he should.
     But not this guy.
     No, when I lifted my helmet on its chinstrap, to shake it out, the little bastard crawled down to my forehead and stung me again, over the eye.
     Think that didn’t hurt? The little son of a …
     Where was I? Ah, yes, thinking thoughts of autumn. Melancholy. Reflective. Wise …

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