When I envision autumn, the smell of wood smoke is in the air and I’m walking through orange and red, yellow and magenta leaves piled on forest ground. Overhead mottled green leaves wave at me. Squirrels scurry among scattered acorns, carrying them up tree trunks for storage in their picturesque holes. Inside each one, I’m sure, is a living room suite designed by Arnold Lobel where the squirrel families spend evenings in overstuffed chairs, drinking hazelnut tea and eating walnut bread. (Look inside Lobel’s Owl at Home http://amzn.to/1M3XIoh if you want to see the squirrels’ decor. They’re always after the owls for decorating tips.)
Those visions of my favorite season were formed by books, from Little Women to A Separate Peace to Winnie the Pooh, and augmented by two years spent living near the Hudson River. The images have little to do with what autumn is like in Colorado. Our high temperature yesterday was eighty-two degrees. Residents are making pilgrimages up the Front Range of the Rockies to see the yellows of the aspen trees, bright against the backdrop of evergreens, but the scenic palette can’t compare with the explosion of colors on the East coast.
While rain is forecast for the weekend, we’re more likely to have sunny days, and here is where Colorado achieves glory. We have the sky. The sheer sweep of crystalline blue, set off by the quaking aspen leaves, fills the soul and dazzles the eye. Every October the Rocky Mountains bare their shoulders of leaves and bask under a blue that extends forever. I’ve searched the Thesaurus, trying to find the perfect word to describe that shade, but none will do. The closest, lord help us? Skyey. Every place has a sky, but in the West, it is more than scenery. It is a character affecting the story, setting the scene, flavoring the air.
And yet I rhapsodize each year over the colors of the leaves in my mind’s eye even as I revel in the vast sea of sky overhead. In the way we see and respond to such things as autumn, how much is owed to the power of words and the impressions they make on our memories? How much has to do with the immediate sensory appreciation we have of our surroundings? Is it fiction versus reality? Perhaps it is the best of both.