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Coffin: Before Snow

Norwich University men’s soccer, a first place battle, game tied. From the stands as the sun lowered I watched autumn’s colors intensify along the Northfield hills. I hoped for overtime, that this splendor and excitement would never end.

North of Maple Corners I entered a tunnel of golden leaves, while from the car radio a Sibelius symphony gathered strength and beauty. Would that this moment of pure joy last forever.

From Bear Mountain’s old fire tower I watched the Green Mountains’ mighty shadow advance, and carry away another day of peak foliage. I wished that some grand power would hold the sunset, right there, hour on hour.

Robert Frost in his poem October wrote:
“Oh hushed October morning mild, thy leaves have ripened to the fall
“Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
“Should waste them all.”

And said Frost,
“Begin the hours of this day slow. Make the day seem to us less brief.
“Release one leaf at break of day: at noon release another leaf.”

Never in my seven decades have those words seemed more apt, for I’ve not seen more brilliant colors than this year’s. The foliage heightened day by day, reached its fragile peak, while the leaves

stayed and stayed. Mid-autumn I guided a busload of Tennesseans through Windsor County. Topping Cheedle Hill, we suddenly confronted the Pomfret Valley, steep slopes all yellow and red above emerald fields. A passenger exclaimed, “Oh my dear Lord.” I would have prolonged that moment.

Two days later, as morning brought heavy rain, I told the postman this would end the leaves. Yet at noon, driving Eighty Nine through the Green Mountains west of Waterbury, the sun emerged, and an expanse of gold confronted me the likes of which I have never seen. Oh, if that moment could have been held.

Yet by late afternoon, with a breeze increasing to wind, the leaves began a serious departure. Foliage’s hours were numbered. Again, as Frost wrote, “Nothing gold can stay.”

Of course, all is not lost with the departure of this grandeur. Late autumn is rich with the mystic scent of dead leaves, and the powerful sight of bare hillsides where only tenacious birch and oak leaves linger, reminding us that spring will follow the long winter months. The shortening days always bring forth in me a mighty sense of time and loss, of preciousness, some wondrous appreciation of having existed. And despite its essence of endings, the deepening autumn can at times seem almost exhilarating.

So, here comes winter, down from the north, descending from the rocky tops of Camel’s Hump and Abraham.

My grandfather used to smile and say, “Well, Howard, the wood’s all in.” And once again I am reminded of Robert Frost words, “Not yesterday I learned to know the love of bare November days, before the coming of the snow.”

Howard Coffin is an author and historian whose specialty is the Civil War.
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