Friday, October 18, 2013

An autumn impression (featuring beer)

On Saturday, I sat lazily atop a picnic table, drinking beer from a can, relishing how the White Mountains' autumn days—no matter how cloudy or cloudless—always feel so pleasantly low-lit, like when you turn down the dimmer switch in a room. Happily seduced by one of those "lonely intervals where the afternoon lingered" (so described by Henry James in his essay "New England: An Autumn Impression"), I watched the leaves lightly fall from a small maple tree. There was no soft breeze, no animal darting along a branch, no fat raindrops; each leaf's pleasing departure and descent was not the consequence of another event. They fell simply because it was time to fall. It was all so cosmically pure and epic. I opened another beer.

I thought of Astral Weeks and wondered if when the album was recorded—three fall days in 1968: Sept. 25, and Oct. 1 and 15—had any influence on its mood and tone. Autumns in my foliage-bedecked corner of the world are dominated by flashes of warmth and pangs of loneliness. It's like walking back and forth between one room with a fire on the hearth and another without. Exploring the Jackson/North Conway area's diabolically twisted back roads, I saw a man whose skin was flushed red from physical exertion and at his feet were brown, crumbled husks and they were trampled into the cold, acrid earth and I thought, Okay, so that's autumn.

In the fall, you feel quite alive among the death and decay. This contrasting state of affairs spurs reflection on where you are, where you've been, and where you are going. You are strengthened by the future, weakened by the past, tormented by the last vestiges of color, emboldened by a promise of rebirth. You are enchanted by the cold steel of a vacant railroad bridge, an empty swimming hole, a forlorn-looking skiff for sale on a yellowed lawn, a deserted diner advertising homemade pumpkin bread, a lone church steeple set against a vibrant backdrop, cold rain pelting an air conditioner left in a window. Do we hear any of that in Astral Weeks? Possibly just a little bit? Maybe?

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