The Paw Paw River Journal
Ode to autumn My Webster’s says an ode is a poem written to be sung. Well I’m not going to sing this, but I hope there will be music in it. We are now in a beautiful time of year. And if we just listen, nature is singing songs. Back in the day (hah!), it was one of our favorite times to go camping. Labor Day has come and gone, and students are back in school laboring! When that holiday arrives, suddenly the campgrounds empty out. People are back in their workday lives. Suddenly the highways are not as crowded. Who’s out there? The gray-headed crowd. And I’m talking about that time after I retired from teaching. Yup, we were part of it! The trees ache with color. One year daughter Becky came in our kitchen and said, “You guys just have to come outside so we can take some pictures. All the trees around your house are just beautiful!” We did that, and I still look at those pictures… They evoke the same feelings I had then. A sense of wonder at God’s world and all its beauty. At night I step out on the back porch and breathe deep. A tang of burning leaves (strictly illegal), and on Friday nights the sound of crowds cheering on our football team at the nearby high school. I can remember on such a Friday night we had driven up to the state park at Traverse City. We found a spot beneath the pines. As I set up our travel trailer I breathed deeply that pure scented air. I wish I could have distilled it and bottled it to open right now! Our four children had their own ideas about camping when they could go with us… Eldest two girls, Deb and Becky, put up their tent and got all of their equipment arranged. Out came the volleyball and net, and they were off to set it up and find some kids for a game. Soon they were all playing volleyball. One time I said to them, “I think you’ve found a good way to meet boys!” They just gave me that Mona Lisa smile and went on about their business. Son Rob set up his little pup tent and had his own campfire… we could do that in those days. In the morning I reared up and looked out the window to see if he was okay. There he was sitting in front of his tent with the campfire and cooking a pot of oatmeal. Youngest daughter, Laurie, had her own camping ideas. She claimed one of the bunks in our travel trailer and had her bed all made up. When we set up camp and I powered up the trailer, on came her electric blanket and her little radio, set to the local rock station. Oh yes, we all got what we wanted. And we camped that way summer through autumn. We loved autumn picnics too. My folks were the original picnic people. Because we lived right at my dad’s business (the greenhouses), if they wanted to get away and have some free time, we often went on picnics. A favorite place was Hagar Park. In those days it was a real family spot. We picnicked there almost until snow would be flying. Well, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But we had some times when they would put up a tarp to keep the wind out. And my dad was a champion hamburger fryer! A big fire in the outdoor fireplace, one by each table. The smell of frying hamburgers and a pot of potatoes boiling (with the skins on). No swimming then, of course, but we were out in nature as darkness settled over the wooded area… and a few other brave families who were doing the same thing. Autumn meant a lot of other things too. We raked leaves into piles and burned them. No rules against that then. And of an autumn evening a haze lay over the town, with a big harvest moon rising. Every year at harvest time the Chicago Tribune ran a feature with a special picture on the cover of the magazine section. It shows an autumn scene, with moon coming up, and the field of corn shocks. Under that another picture and the scene is changed… same campfire, but now the corn shocks are Indian tepees and the Native Americans are dancing around a fire. Autumn meant a lot of other things too… and it still does. Halloween is coming up and then Thanksgiving. Both of those deserve their own story which I will develop later. Autumn is a most glorious time of year. It is tinged with sadness because we know that winter is coming. The world will go to sleep, covered with a white blanket. Goodbye until spring. Meanwhile we enjoy the feeling of completion, of things winding down for the year. And often during that time we are given a period of warmth called Indian summer. What a luxury to be in shirtsleeves again for a few days. The year the Chief Accountant and I were married it was thus. About two weeks of glorious warm weather. We went on our wedding trip to Washington D.C. Visiting a beautiful cathedral in that city, we looked through the gift shop adjoining. Run by society of Brothers wearing brown habits, it had all kinds of religious gifts. I followed Marion around looking for things to take back home as gifts. One young brother smiled at me and said, “How was the wedding?” I said, “How did you know we were just married?” He replied knowingly, “Otherwise you would be outside impatiently waiting for her to get done!” Glorious autumn days when we were young, life was new, and lots of golden threads woven into the tapestry of our lives in these storybook towns along the Paw Paw River.