Blowin’ in: Late Autumn Blessings
By Susan Mangan
If you stand near the uneven shores of the lake
and are still,
to land on your outstretched arms,
you will become part of the earth.
The shores are an altar.
Bindweed secures you to the ground.
Broad leaves of the dock plant soothe
the unexpected sting of nettles.
Wind lifts your hair,
a golden shawl of
welcoming the autumnal bloom
of violet heather.
atop these shores,
you sense the smell
as it mingles
that cuts through your lungs
reminding you to breathe.
The weather in late autumn is brisk at Crooked Lake. Most of the leaves on the old sycamore tree have turned varying shades of yellow and brown. The water reflects an impressionist’s palette of scarlet, gold, and orange.
It is just past dawn on this Sunday morning and the world is alight with color; the cacophonous sounds of birds calling for their mates harmonize with the distant bark of a farm dog. A pair of Sandhill Cranes trumpet calls, pterodactyls somehow caught in a twenty-first century sky. For a moment, my spaniel raises her eyebrows at the sound, until she sighs contentedly and places her long ears in the pillow of her paws.
Leaves fall with each gust of wind, marking the impending turn of seasons. Large, rippled sycamore and delicate, diamond shaped birch leaves descend in syncopation landing on wheaten lily pads.
It is early morning cold and the fish are tucked far below the muck of lakeweed. A family of ducks parade across the protected shores of the lake: secure in their purpose, confident in their companionship.
I wonder if this natural world looks back at me as I gaze in wonder at the turn of every season. What does the flotilla of geese see when it boldly stares into the face of my dog? What does the hawk imagine when he lands on the almost bare branches of the mulberry tree? Or the mute swans who have accompanied my parents on this lake during their sixtieth wedding anniversary, who symbolized constancy on the morning after my mother’s death, and hope on the dawn of my father’s ninetieth birthday? Unaware of the joy and grief humans experience in equal turns, nature continues to cycle offering unexpected blessings to those who choose to commune with her gifts.
This autumn we celebrated my father’s ninetieth birthday with his closest friends and family. Our dearest friend, more family than friend, presented my dad with a gift: a photographic image of the sycamore tree that grows on the shores of his lake.
She spoke of the tree and its age. Sycamores can live two hundred years or more. They grow and stretch while their bark sheds.
My father’s sycamore reaches out over the lake with thick branches that resemble protective arms. My mother loved this tree. It has such character; the tree has grown crooked over the course of generations: a crooked tree springing from the shores of Crooked Lake.
The irony of this was not lost on my mom and dad. How they would laugh at this as they sipped their cups of coffee and admired the fall colors of the wetlands beyond the tree. One can sense the strength and wisdom in this tree as it reaches toward the sun and continues to persevere through great winter winds and wet spring mornings.
As our friend remarked, that sycamore tree is a great deal like my father; strong, but a bit bent with the travails of life; old, but eternally handsome. The tree, like my father, has weathered storms, bearing witness to pain and heartache, celebration and joy. On the night of my father’s birthday, it swayed in time with the strains of big band music and the sounds of laughter.
The shores of our lake are filled with phantoms and memory, but on that glorious night, my mother’s spirit was present in the rippling beauty of the lake, etched into the changing light of the autumn horizon. Mostly, we could feel her presence beneath the broad falling leaves of the sycamore tree as we stood together, wrapped around my dad, smiling for a birthday photograph and celebrating the gift of another day.
*Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at [email protected].