“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.”
~WIlliam Cullen Bryant
Autumn is officially here in the Northern Hemisphere. I’ve been busy lately filming nature’s habitats for my A Year in Penn’s Woods project. On this past solstice weekend, I filmed scenes at a lake in the county park near our home. This lake was dredged and restored a year ago and is again filled with a rich diversity of plants and wildlife. Summertime was over, but the fish were still jumpin’ in the lake. Geese, ducks, and a beautiful blue heron graced the water. Yes, I lost a shoe to the mudflats that morning, having ventured too close to the water to find the right spot for filming. The water saturated mud sucked the tightly laced shoe right off of my foot and soaked through the other one; it seemed more important at the time to save the photography equipment rather than the hapless shoe. Undeterred, I continued filming in muddy socks on firmer ground. Lesson learned for future ventures.
The night of the solstice was magical; a moon slightly past full held court in the heavens wreathed by feathery garlands of clouds. The night was warm; the thrum and buzz of cicada and frog song created the illusion of a summer night instead of the advent of the autumn solstice. As the frog and insect chorus died away, the late evening concert was completed by the soft hoot of an owl in the woods. Although I am still editing the video footage I captured, I grabbed some still shots out of the video to share. Enjoy!
“At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
Oh, it’s a long long while from May to December,
But the days grow short when you reach September. ~lyrics by Maxwell Anderson, fromSeptember Song
Sweet Autumn Clematis
Those long summer evenings are gone, borne away on the boom and crack of violent thunderstorms. Perhaps a few more warm nights remain, filled with the summer songs of cicadas and frogs, but the weather is quickly changing to the cool short days of fall. It has been an odd summer – weather spinning from torrential rains and steamy days to the occasional stretch of dry sunny weather. Now the garden is filled with the sunny blooms of goldenrod and black-eyed susan; the last crop of cherry tomatoes glisten in shiny red cascades, and a giant cloud of fragrant white stars covers the sweet autumn clematis climbing up the fence and into the trees. All the creatures are busy filling their larders against the coming winter, from spiders bundling up yellow jackets caught in their webs to squirrels and chipmunks gathering acorns under the oak trees. The hummingbirds and most of the butterflies have headed south and flying V’s of geese are starting to follow them. Next week, the autumn solstice returns and summer will be truly gone.
Chiaroscuro – Italian for the play of shadow and light, most often referring to tonal relationships in visual art (Wikipedia)
Walking through a garden or a forest is a much different experience than looking at it from afar. When seen from a vantage point, no matter how beautiful a view, only your eyes see the beauty before you and you are separated from it – it and you. But walking in it and through it, that is a different experience altogether. You and it become a “we” – fused together by a play of shadow and light, transient shifts of color and tone that enfold you as a part of nature’s spectral ballet.
Chiaroscuro is a term that painters used to describe the use of shadow and light to create the illusion of three dimensionality on a two dimensional plane. Photographers embraced it as a reminder that they were photographing light, not things. As I walked through the garden this week, each step became an experience of shadow and light. Every plant and flower took on a golden glow, filtered through the autumn leaves above. Standing below a fiery maple tree became a transcendent experience of standing in liquid gold; the deep umber and burgundy hues of light traveling through oak leaves captivated me for long moments. The beauty of autumn is transitory, all the more treasured for that short period of time when we look upward at a canopy of color that is unmatched in any other season.
Here is French singer Juliette Greco singing Les Fuielles Morte (Autumn Leaves) in French in a live concert in Berlin (1967) in a simple arrangement of voice and guitar. Sartre said of her that she had “. . . millions of poems in her voice.” (Wikipedia)
Where there is much light, the shadow is deep. ~ Geothe
For a translation of the original French lyrics (by Jacques Prevert) to Les Feuilles mortes/Autumn Leaves (not the Johnny Mercer English lyrics) – see this translation by Coby Lubliner.