The Berkshire and Litchfield Hills are a sodden, mossy shade of green after a prolonged period of extremely wet weather. My garden is growing the most extraordinary and vile mass of mold and fungi among the spinach greens, and the sun is notable by its absence. Friends in the arid West would give their eye teeth for a fraction of the precipitation to which we've been subjected, but that is cold comfort for many in these parts. Spoiled carnivals and wet weekends do not a summer make.
So on a day that began with a deluge and with a thick blanket of stratus clouds threatening perpetual rain overhead, I fantasize about the rare and wonderful beauty of this landscape throughout the year, the hidden gems and ephemeral pleasures beyond this monotonous gray.
Autumn is our crowning glory, a blaze of crimson and scarlet, russet and gold as first the red maples and poplars, then the sugar maples and ash, and finally the oaks and tamaracks join the grand pageant of the season. The low angle light on a clear fall day is achingly lovely, and when it strikes a stand of tamaracks, tawny needles a quiver against a dark and threatening sky, it has all the high drama of a Wagnerian score.
Yet just as dramatic but altogether softer and ethereal are our woodlands when the Mountain laurel is in full flower, as they were last week. A pale wash of white and pastel pink drifted below the canopy of our our forested uplands, nowhere quite so impressively as on the Taconic Plateau where an unbroken wall of laurel hovered between root and treetop. There is no finer time to wander these hills than a rare day in June when the laurels are in bloom.
Deep in the cool of a hemlock ravine, wood thrush warble and water pours through clefts in the rock on the downward plunge to the valley floor. Fingerling trout dart in the shadows, and ledges drip with wall rue and maidenhair beside the cascade. On a sweltering day the ravines are naturally air conditioned and their secluded pools enticing for a bracing dip.
The long, sluggish oxbows of the upper Housatonic coil past cattle ruminating on the banks. The water eddies at the confluence of main stream and tributary, gumming the riverbank where it undercuts willow and cottonwood. A few, lazy miles of this meandering and then the quick rush into the gorge and it frolics over riffle and rapid. Under the covered bridge and swirling around fly fishermen thigh-deep in the current, the river tumbles over the stones and down toward the sea.
There is also that delicious whisper of August wind in the early evening, flowing gently over the meadow grass and under the big maple where our hammock swings. All is back-lit as twilight gathers, the nodding heads of sunflowers and the garden fat with tomatoes at the fence row. My children and I rock in that sweet summer breeze, the drone of cicadas already heralding the approach of autumn. There are still fairs to attend, a week or two before school begins, and yet there is that tranquil expectancy of the wheel about to turn, like the gravity arch at the top of the rope swing when you hang in the air above the dark water for a delirious instant.
The first snow that glazes the mountain tops but only nips the low places with frost may come in October or wait until all the leaves are gone. A heavy snow will bend the trunks of birches nearly to the ground, and draw a fir's branches down like skirts at its base. A bitter freeze without snow can mean black ice on the pond, the fastest, smoothest skating surface the winter world has to offer. The stillness of snow falling through trees on a moonlit night was made for cross-country skis or just standing still and marveling.
These seasonal offerings, these exquisite feasts for the senses, are latent possibilities when fate and spirit conspire to reveal them. The sun will shine, and the seasons turn, and this reverie manifest in the wide world around.