We had our first real rain of the autumn last night and this morning as I sit on the patio breathing in the cool, wet California air I hear in the distance a train whistle calling. I’ve heard that whistle before, as a child, sitting at the window of my bedroom, looking out at the valley below, where lines of trains laden down with ore huff and puff in and out of the mills where the fathers and sons and brothers of Hephaestus feed the blazing furnaces that turn iron into steel.
I remember the golden autumns of those golden days in Pennsylvania when green, green woods would be burnished by the sun into burgundy and orange and yellow and red. I hear the crisp crunch of fallen leaves raked into high piles in resting gardens and smell the smoky perfume of mother’s fire.
Autumn is the burning time of the year when summer days are put to the match and the ground cleared to receive the coming snows. It is a time for saying goodbye, of endings, a time to unpack woolen blankets from cedar chests and put snow tires on cars. Autumn is the time for summing up, tying loose ends, closing books, gathering seeds, preparing for long sleeps.
Vistas of blazing chrysanthemums defiantly standing in early frosts, pumpkins now exposed among the vines waiting to be summoned, tomatoes lined up on window sills to ripen, the last rose of summer in a final burst of life laying red against the white wooden wall, the chattering squirrel silent now in a frenzy of nut gathering.
“Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye,” the train whistle calls again and I think of all the places I have been and all of the places I will never go. I look out of my reverie, nose pressed against the glass and think of all the years that have slid by so silently like landscapes glimpsed from the window of a moving train.
Who is it who is moving? The train or I? Am I leaving or have I been left behind?