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Lange: Autumnal Equinox

It was many years ago now. Three of us were in hunting camp for the weekend, and old Bill had driven up the mountain for the evening. He never drove his Jeep across the brook just below camp because he was pretty fussy about that Jeep. He crossed the brook on foot and walked up to camp.

During the evening Bill got into the bourbon pretty well, and when it came time to leave, he asked me to walk back down to his Jeep with him. The brook crossing was pretty dicey; the rocks were sheathed in ice where they stuck up. Bill got about halfway across. Then he stood up straight, teetered on his Bean boots for a second, and said, “Well, here I go!” He went right over backwards into the brook, and everything got a lot colder right after that. Everything but his language.

I always recall that evening when, every year, we pass the autumnal equinox. The axis of the earth this week was standing at a right angle to the sun for a few moments; and I could almost hear it saying, “Well, here I go!” as it tipped over backwards, and the northern hemisphere began its rapid decline into winter.

The small migratory birds are somehow finding our feeders as they pass through on their way to a warmer climate. The chickadees, who stop infrequently during the summer, are with us now several times a day. The hummingbirds deserted us long ago. I’ve got to get their feeder in before it freezes some cold night. And the woodpeckers, Morty and Harry (get it?) are going through the suet about as fast as I can get it out there.

Driving the north country roads, it’s hard not to notice the patches of red on the hillsides, where the soft maples are beginning to dream of becoming scarlet. The birch leaves are drying and curling on the branch; the barn roof wears a blanket of brown pine needles; and the trees we always called trash trees when we had to plow through them – blue beech, ironwood, alder, hornbeam – have already lost half their leaves. They swirl in circles on the highway in little puffs of wind and swish around my feet as I walk through the woods.

Not everybody here is delighted by these phenomena. Those who can get away for the next few months have already planned when they’re going to. Those who can’t, or wouldn’t if they could, are cleaning their rifles and shotguns or preparing the bottoms of their skis for that first happy day on the new snow. It’s firewood-in-the-shed time, and on the farms, hog-slaughtering time.

I’ve got to drain the garden hoses; make sure the snow blower starts; clear the garage out for the vehicles; and like the squirrels scampering everywhere stashing acorns, make sure I’ve got enough in the bank to pay the tax bill in November.

Once all that’s done, there’s not much to do but get ready to take whatever else comes: to stand up straight on an icy rock and say, “Well, here I go!”

Willem Lange is a retired remodeling contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in East Montpelier, Vermont.
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