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Seasons turn

09/28/05 12:00AM By Vic Henningsen
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(HOST) It seems that the seasons have indeed turned, and summer has been transformed into fall. Commentator Vic Henningsen reflects on the elusive moment of transition.


(HENNINGSEN) In her poem Wash Day, Jane Kenyon writes,

The days are getting shorter. . .
You'll laugh, but I feel it---
some power has gone from the sun.

I sit beside the pond after an early swim and look up from Jane's "Collected Poems" to consider her wisdom, her struggle with depression, the triumph of her words.

A comfort.

And she's right.

There is a moment when the season turns. Most years we know it only in retrospect: one day we realize that it's colder; we grasp our coffee for warmth, not just caffeine; the early morning house feels chill; we look at the thermometer by the kitchen window and see that it registers in the low fifties, not the sixties we've known for so long.

The clouds press down, greyer, gun-metal; the pond looks darker. We reconsider our plans for an early morning dip. We look at the woodpile with a tinge of anxiety.

Can we mark the turn? Usually not. We simply come to a realization that it has happened.

We think back, rational beings that we are, trying to fix an exact point and we simply can't do it. Like so many things in nature, it has happened while we were preoccupied with other things we thought more pressing.

We are left to contemplate, again, the different rhythms of man and nature: we creatures of the moment, skittering from one concern to another like the swallows that skim the surface of the pond hunting the evening hatch; nature's pace slower, harder to discern, but moving inexorably to one result.

But, sometimes, it is possible to fix not only a date but a time to the turn of the season. Perhaps this is bad science and largely personal perception, but, with Jane Kenyon, I believe it to be so.

For me, this year, the season turned on the day my son and I reached treeline in the Presidential Range of New Hampshire.

It had been in the mid-seventies at the trailhead but, up there, it was in the mid-forties with a good thirty-knot gale blowing. On our walk, that day and the next, it was clear we had moved from summer into fall in a little over three miles and two thousand feet of climbing. And on that walk, watching my adult son move ahead, every so often pausing to wait for me to catch up, it became clear that something else had turned.

When I threw out my knee on our way down, I knew that 45 years after I began climbing I could no longer handle with ease whatever the mountains could dish out. And someone was now looking out for me.

So I sit this morning, by the water, pondering the ways the power leaves the sun.

This is Vic Henningsen of Thetford Ctr.

Vic Henningsen is a teacher and historian.
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