Sunday, October 7, 2007
Watch the Light!
I love the Fall. I love the Autumn.
My love is challenged these days, but I do not blame the season; it is not a fickle lover. I do not jab an accusing finger as this time of year like a seething, resentful, heart-shattered idealist: “You did it! It’s your fault! You have betrayed ME! You have failed to live up to my High Standards! You’re responsible for disappointing me! Away with Thee and never throw Thy Shadow ‘Crost my doorstep agayn!”
No, my low love-levels for this turning of the season have more to do with my current location and monkish life-style. Both darling Elizabeth’s and my employment keep us tethered to Emeryville, which jealously throws a cloak of dusty concrete over any beauty that foolishly shows its face. Already its ugliness crowds my rear window, greedily slurping its chops at this last tiny redoubt of green trees and gardens that surround me, whispering to The Master Planners: “We’ve driven away all those annoying twittering birds . . . now if we can kill all those green trees, we can construct a shopping mall to service all the Lovely Condos we are a-building. It will be the Most Beautiful Thing That Ever Was! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!!”
Back to reverie: My love for fall starts with Fall’s light—the only thing Emeryville cannot suppress, no matter how much money it throws at the problem—the sharp and limpid tone, actually musical, brought in part by the Sun’s passing to the North on its East to West sweep as it grows lower and lower toward the horizon. It is as though the air has been drained and cleansed by the impurities brought by the heavier air of summer. My soul grows lighter. Like a spring that follows an especially leaden winter, I feel wings swelling from within my shoulder bones and muscles and I pretend to see the earth sweep away from beneath my feet, with its streaming sweet yellow and umber colors.
But I cannot fly and this is the West Coast of California. Its temperate climate mutes all four Seasons, turning the climate in something like Goldilocks’s porridge: safe and almost flavorless with only small variations in temperature, precipitation and, yes, light and air. For many, probably the near-total majority, this is what makes the Bay Area so worthwhile: no blistering sweltering Summers; no grim, depressing mid- to late-Winters. (Want flavor? You’ll have to drive all the way to Eastern Sierras for the aspens, per this favorite writer’s cheerful guidance.)
Yes, the Seasons of Earth’s higher latitudes can be very bad, I do remember distinctly. But nothing, not even the taste of a favorite food, sparks memories in me like the Seasons, in all their faces. I hail from where the Summers could be like sleeping under wet, heated wool and the Winters, after the first magic, became cold, granite,sunless caves, where we shrieked our prayers for escape. But the Springs and the Falls were as I’ve described them above: full of both radical delight and subtle tones; the extreme bad led to extreme ecstasy and a deeper awareness of birth, death and time.
Pretentious? OK, so, sigh, shoot me and cremate me in a pile of burning leaves. I still say Spring tastes like sap oozing from a maple tree, while Fall tastes like cold, sweet stream water. In Mohegan Lake, New York, and even in dreary Oshkosh, Wisconsin—one of the Emeryvilles of that otherwise underestimated United State, I could feel that taste in my skin. It was like synesthesia: one sense swimming with another. The bright, sun-kissed orange of the turning maple and elm leaves made the world indoors feel cozier. The smells of rotting leaves or roasted turkey and pumpkin pie, or the sight of grinning candled pumpkins under a full, screaming orange moon, does make a brain turn inward to its soul where I sometimes find, as the poet Keats describes it, a “mellow fruitfulness.” The city makes Death fall like a trowel and seem like the End of Everything, but, when woven inevitably into the tapestry of nature, Death seems like a miraculous turn of a Great Wheel. Autumn warns that things will get worse for a time, but nevertheless Life will come around again, be worth celebrating.
Under this circumstance, nostalgia is not a bad thing. As my youth draws further into the past and the sad memory of what is lost—in the sense of the experiences I missed, passed on, or failed to be attentive to—brings into sharp relief those sadly few experiences that stay with me. On me, at least, it actually has the opposite effect of what happens to a lot of folks: instead of grim, bitter resignation to aging and mortality, a sharp, even angry, and great hunger arises. The seasons remind me that yeah, times passes but much in this rounded ball of awareness called life remains to be done. Spring will come. I’d better be ready.
In other matters: one of my oldest friends and enthusiastic reader of these feuilletons, famous knock-'em-dead, banned-in-Oshkosh (we're both proud to say), stage hypnotist John-Ivan Palmer is unable to sign on to the Comments section of this service, and so e-mails his responses to me. One of them, in response to last week’s posting on Ken Burn’s The War, provides a different, important perspective as follows. (As you will see, John's not a bad writer himself):
“When I was recovering from my operation, I spent a week listening to a series of lectures on World War II by Thomas Childers (University of Pennsylvania). It was more a study of the strategic causes and effects, rather than a "people's history." One thing Childers pointed out was that WWII was largely a war of racism on all sides. The Germans looked down on everyone not Aryan, the Japanese looked down on everyone not Japanese, and the Americans didn't want their colonial sphere of influence in Asia taken over by Yellow People. Hardships and personal stories notwithstanding, this was the emotional fuel behind the largest event in human history, with 50 million dead. Some older people still refer to the "Japs" or "Jap cars," even in front of Harue, [John’s Japanese wife] not realizing they are parroting 60-year-old racist propaganda. And as a reading of Tom Bradley will readily show, a significant number of Japanese today aren't much different.”
[And an Apology: I forgot to "BLIND COPY" my reminder of last week's posting
to many of you. My deep apologies to any of you who were inconvenienced and annoyed. I will strive to see that it does not happen again!]