Editorial: Scenes from an autumn not yet here

Thursday, September 28, 2017

It is late September, and weary tomato plants and a humbled cucumber patch have yet to cede an inch of their seasonal parcel to the next tenant. The firewood is running late this year.

This isn’t a widespread problem. You can’t drive far in New Hampshire without seeing split logs piled or stacked in the yards of pragmatic people who smell winter in the heat. But autumn’s refusal to break off a doomed summer fling has some of us living in perpetual August. We are the ones with chimneys but no wood.

For days, the dog has returned from her morning walk panting the pant of a hunter after the chase, her tongue hanging to the side like Groucho Marx’s cigar. This is only her fourth autumn, but she seems to know a broken promise when she sees one. Fallen leaves cover her favorite patch of grass, yet it’s almost too hot to bark at the squirrels. Almost. When the shade ceases to offer relief, she heads inside to find a cool corner on the old pine floor, preferably one far away from people and the woodstove, which hasn’t held a flame since April. We could plead the stove’s innocence and our own, but what good would it do? There’s just no talking to a dog denied comfortable weather.

The progression of New Hampshire’s year is roughly marked by the rise and fall of mercury and moods. With tidings of comfort and joy, early winter arrives to drape layers of immaculate white over the devastation left by autumn’s final act. But beauty fades as beauty does. Slush takes over the city, and bitter air settles over country fields. By February, the weight of winter threatens to collapse roofs and spirits alike, and a cry goes out to spring. The sovereignty of individual seasons being well-established, spring acts covertly at first, delivering relief in the form of thawing afternoons and rogue daffodils. Alarmed and weakened, winter tries to assert dominion over March and April, but by May the matter is settled. Flowers unfurl their petals to mark spring’s victory, and budding trees signal the coming of the summer reign. The coronation party burns bright and hot through August.

Then comes early fall. Usually. Sometimes chaos overrides the will of seasons.

The long-range weather forecast for the Concord area says temperatures will drop into the mid-60s over the weekend before climbing back up to the 70s for the foreseeable future. September failed to tear New Hampshire away from summer, and October hardly looks up to the task. Somewhere, a bewildered dog pants amid unraked leaves.

Winter will come, that is certain. There will be frigid nights where silence is the only thing that moves. Snow will fall, again and again and again, and arctic winds will stir up drifts that aspire to swallow houses. On the coldest February mornings, this late September heat wave will seem like a fever dream.

Actually, it’s like a dream now. Here’s hoping we wake from this long summer reverie before the firewood is gone.