Thoreau reckoned changes wrought to the woods by autumn had not yet made an impression on the literature of his time. Bearing this in mind we now present the autumn edition of Orphan Scrivener and invite you to press onward into our wood of words. It may be dark in its tangled, overgrown groves, but there's nothing scary lurking in them waiting to leap out at you.
For a change.
The mountains surrounding north-west England's Lake District had long since faded into a blurred blue smudge, hidden by the storm that began as we set out south.
We'd enjoyed a week's break from city life. The air was clear and cool each morning, the afternoons golden, the peaks looming majestic and serene around Ullswater as the sun went down and the stars came out. It had been a stretch of nothing-much-happening days, although we did have one bit of excitement. My brother-in-law came in one evening with a large trout after spending most of the day on the lake in a small rowing boat. As he pulled off his boots he related how, when mist had come down, he had come to shore where he could, tied the boat up next to a bigger vessel, and would have to return next day to get the borrowed boat back to its owner. On the morrow, when he went to claim it, he found he had lashed it right next to Lord Nuffield's yacht.
I wonder if his lordship had had fresh trout for dinner.
But now we were driving south, me to return home and my sister and family to visit, travelling in that curious hybrid of bike and car, the three-wheeler combination -- a motorbike with a one-wheeled passenger sidecar attached. It was a nice, airy way to travel. Unless, of course, it was raining.
And it certainly was.
There were only two of us exposed to the elements, since the two-seater sidecar was the de-luxe enclosed model.Brother-in-law and I were togged up in rain-gear and helmets. His leather gauntletted hands stuck out sideways from the windshield behind whose slight protection we hunched pitifully. With our stiff and crackly wet weather gear, we looked as if we were going trawling off the Dogger Bank. Except the North Sea was on the other side of England, and probably less stormy at the time.
Our little three-wheeled chariot churned merrily along, leaving a v-shaped wave behind us. We were both soon soaked to the skin. The engine chugged, the sky wept, passing vehicles threw spray over us. Then a layby loomed out of the tempest and we pulled in gratefully for a short break and to stretch our cramped legs. My jeans were so soaked with the weight of water in them they began to fall down.
"Have some tea," my sister offered from the snug sidecar, handing over two mugs of same piping hot from the thermos.
We had come to a halt next to a bus full of tourists who were also sipping tea. They were eating sandwiches as well. Dry sandwiches. Hitching my jeans with one hand, I reached down to take a proffered mug. A rivulet of water shot out from my sleeve as if from a drainpipe. Behind their steamy windows the bus riders laughed. We flourished our mugs at them cheerfully. No-one offered us a sandwich.
We hopped stiffly back onto the bike. It was still raining.Turner would have loved it, although Wind, Rain, and Exhaust Fumes is not much of a title for a work of art. But we took heart when we realised we had now passed the journey's half way mark. Wet, black tarmac unreeled licorice bootlace-like benath us. By the time we finally rolled into the Midlands, Lord Nuffield's yacht could gave sailed along with us, for the motorway had turned into a horizontal sluice. We would spot the great white whale any moment. Paul Revere, veteran of a famous journey, would surely have sympathised.
But then we noticed the silvery curtain into which we had been plunging wheel first for hours was - wasn't it? - becoming less dense. We could see raindrops now, rather than the taut, grey lines lashing us all morning. With a wild surmise, we crested the hill outside Banbury. Clouds were beginning to break up and roll away as a watery gleam of sunshine trickled over us. A few minutes later, we rolled to a halt at our back door. The ground was bone dry.
Cicada-like, we shed raingear. Blue shoe dye had been transferred to my socks, and, as I discovered when I peeled them off, to my feet as well. The footwear, my teenage pride and joy, were ruined. I took them out to the dustbin, and went back into the kitchen, bare feet leaving snail-trails of water on the tiles.
"Mary," mum said, "put the kettle on, would you? We could all do with a nice cup of tea."
I have never much cared for autumn. I don't like the cold. My fingers go numb in air conditioned rooms. It's what comes of being nothing but skin and bones. That and Raynaud's Syndrome. Unfortunately, autumn's chill is only a prelude to the bitter cold of winter. To frozen water pipes and the endless groan of the space heater. Where we live, out in the country, winter also means snow and icy roads and weeks of being unable to get the car out. At some point we will subsist on instant macaroni and cheese and the remaining tins of soup. Shall we have celery or tomato today?
If autumn were not constantly reminding me of the winter to come I would enjoy it more. For one thing, the landscape looks its best. The foliage in our part of the northeast is so spectacular that when I see the colors in photographs and paintings they strike me as garish and unreal. There is a more somber beauty once the leaves are gone and the forms of both trees and mountains stand revealed.
Dealing with fallen leaves isn't much of a chore these days. Rather than raking them off the rocky lawn and into the surrounding woods I simply chop them up with the mower. When I was growing up everyone hauled them out to the curb to burn. The street became a channel between smoldering fires. Here and there ashes cartwheeled upwards and orange sparks glinted out of the smoke. You could taste the smoke in the crisp air.
As the leaves were raked into huge piles, before they were hauled off on paint-spotted canvasses to meet their fiery fate, we kids would leap into them, oblivious to the risk of injury from stray sticks. We sat in the leaves and poured handfuls over ourselves. We burrowed into the piles, buried each other, reveling in the dry, earthy smell. They were another element in which to immerse ourselves, neither air, nor earth, nor water.
It was in the autumn, after the frost had off finished the garden and even the rutabagas had been harvested, that my grandfather built a hut out of corn shocks. There we would sit, inhaling the heady odor of the pine needles on the floor, watching our breath hang in the dim air, shivering but out of the wind. We would venture out to explore the frozen garden rows. Amid blackened and withered leaves we found vegetables that had successfully hidden from the harvesters -- a monstrous summer squash on which some creature had gnawed or a bloated cucumber rendered white and translucent from the cold. At the edge of the field beyond the garden we might discover a blackened, all but petrified baseball we had lost in the weeds during the summer.
Autumn is also the time for Halloween, the year's best holiday. When I was allowed to prowl the streets in disguise demanding candy the cold didn't seem quite so bad. I did have to warm my hands up before I could unwrap my Tootsie Rolls.
So there are good aspects to autumn and some good memories associated with it. It has been so many years since autumn meant I was back in school I hardly ever have nightmares about that any more. I think I could really warm up to autumn if only it were followed by spring rather than winter. I like spring, even if it does hint at the looming oppressive heat of summer.
How about if autumn was followed by spring, which was followed by autumn? A year with only those two seasons. That would be perfect.
Subscribers might like to consider that the arrival of the next issue will provide a bit of a break from their searches for a game bird in a fruit tree, a pair of doves, a trio of hens imported from France, and a quartet of colly birds, not to mention getting gold rings assayed, disposing of large numbers of goose eggs, locating an unfrozen pond in which several swans could swim, and arranging housing for milk maids and their cows as well as a crowd of ladies and a bunch of lords who ought to be entertaining the countryside to a roaring good Yuletide dinner in the charming old fashioned way.
See you then!
Mary R and Eric
who invite you to visit their home page, hanging out on the virtual washing line at http://home.epix.net/~maywrite/ There you'll discover the usual suspects, including more personal essays, lists of author freebies and mystery-related newsletters, Doom Cat (an interactive game written by Eric), a jigsaw featuring the handsome cover of Five For Silver, and our growing pages of links to free etexts of classic and Golden Age mysteries, ghost stories, and tales of the supernatural. There's also an Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned! Intrepid subscribers may also wish to pop over to Eric's blog at http://www.journalscape.com/ericmayer/