My friend Dianne, who helps keep our office running, surprises me each autumn when she reminds us that it’s time to order a new desk calendar for the coming year. I never cease to be amazed that yet another year is ebbing, and that a new one is on the horizon.
The dying of the year shouldn’t come as news to me. Evidence of its decline arrives each morning when my alarm clock awakens me to a still-darkened house.
In summer, the sun is already strong as I start the day, its light piercing our heavy bedroom curtains and teasing me out of bed.
But an aging year takes longer to get on its feet, and by October, there’s nothing but blackness beyond the window when the clock sounds its reveille.
Fetching a flashlight from the kitchen cabinet to guide me through my morning walk last week, I tested the lantern by training its beam on an upper shelf. In the small circle of light it made at the back of the cupboard, I noticed our hurricane supplies still unused, including a little pile of batteries stacked like cordwood against the threat of power outages that have — knock on wood — not visited our house this year.
My walk brought other reasons to be grateful. Dawn came as I rounded our neighborhood park, and in the growing light, I could see an empty bird’s nest sitting like a holiday centerpiece on one of the park’s picinic tables. Apparently, someone — a child at play, a groundskeeper, another walker — had found the fallen nest and placed it on the table as a small treasure for others to enjoy. The nest remained untouched on the table for several mornings. I was heartened to think that in a world often lamented as harsh, something so fragile had endured for a few days to brighten the path through a city park.
The nest looked like the handiwork of a small songbird, although I don’t know enough about bird’s nests to make a clearer identification. Maybe, as an autumn project, I’ll get a guidebook and learn to tell one bird’s nest from another.
These kinds of exercises in self-improvement don’t always work out for me. One autumn, I tried to become a better birdwatcher by working my way through a page of the Peterson field guide titled “Confusing Fall Warblers.” After a few days, I remained as confused as ever, but I did learn that sorting the differences among fall warblers can be maddeningly subtle, like trying to parse the distinctions among high and low church Episcopalians.
The sidewalk I travel on my morning walks bears the perfect impression of a leaf that had fallen on its surface as the pavement was poured a few seasons ago.
Maybe, in its own way, each autumn indelibly marks us with its small gifts, adding up, over time, into something like wisdom.
At least that’s what I try to tell myself as I rise in darkness while fall deepens, the year rapidly dwindling to a close.