The weather these past few weeks has been cooperative. The time between now and the third week of October is my ideal time. Not just because my birthday falls in that period, but because I venerate the crisp autumn air and the vibrant colors of the changing leaves. The autumnal equinox was a few weeks ago now and we haven’t had a frost yet. The days have been warm; the nights extremely comfortable. The wool blankets and sweaters are still packed away and I’m wearing T-shirts and shorts whenever I can. Although I know the wardrobe switch is imminent.
I was on the motorcycle the past two weekends, riding south through the northern Catskills and then north into those New York counties that border Vermont and the Green Mountains. The temperature was hovering just below 80 and many of the mountaintops were at peak fall color. Tourists from New York City and New Jersey were crowding the small towns along the routes I chose. Country stores and farm stands were busy and everyone seemed to be in a good, laid back mood. I know I was, soaking up the warmth, the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the beauty.
The twisty roads past farms and forests conveyed the distinct tenor of autumn. The shaded dips and forested curves along the rural roads were noticeably cooler and it was nice to have that protective layer of leather to save me from the sting of falling and blowing leaves and late season bugs hitting me at 55 miles an hour. Riding a motorcycle through the pastoral expanses of New England anytime of the year plunges me into a meditative state and succors me. The sounds of the motorcycle, the wind around my helmet, the earthy, visceral smells of the landscape all contribute to satisfying me.
Getting out on the bike, enjoying the autumn light, the autumn colors, the sensuous feel of the end of photosynthesis soothes me. And I supplement my motorized passage through the landscape with ambling walks and hikes within the forests and parks, along mountain trails where filtered light shines through the changing leaves and defoliating boughs. I tread where sunlight is reflected upward from the fallen golds and reds, the leaves and needles that will soon decompose and nourish their hosts as they currently nourish me. These rides and walks, these sojourns into autumn, seem tailor-made. They tap into a primal part of my psyche taking me back to childhood, to memories of becoming one with a pile of freshly raked leaves, to my father’s chagrin. I am transported.
Today, all this is bittersweet. I am trying to relish these days all the more this year, these colors, these fleeting sensory details as best I can, while I can. Autumn is the time of year when we reflect, take stock and prepare for the winter ahead. Usually the bike gets stored for three, four months and I know that autumn will return in one year’s time after another revolution. In three short months I leave for Thailand. So when I put the motorcycle into storage as the weather gets colder in a month or so, it will sit idle until I return in the spring of 2017. Once I get to Thailand with the Peace Corps, I will not be allowed to drive a car or ride a motorcycle. In bold-faced type the policy reads: Driving or riding as a passenger on a motorbike is strictly forbidden. The Peace Corps takes the safety of its volunteers seriously and over the years there have been too many vehicular accidents, injuries and deaths. I risk expulsion if I don’t abide by this edict.
For 27 months I will be ensconced in the tropics of Southeast Asia and will not see or feel the autumn I have known my whole life again until I return home. I will not see the cacophony of reds, oranges, yellows, rusts, purples, greens and browns for three years. I will not feel the brisk morning air against my skin and it is doubtful I will see a dry, temperate sky for a very long time. The thought of putting the motorcycle away and the thought of autumn running its course saddens me more deeply this year. The thought of a three-year wait weights me down as I ride and walk these familiar pathways. I try to savor the lightness of the autumn, its air, its colors. I need to remember all this while I’m away and so I concentrate more intently and force myself to study, admire, appreciate and give thanks for this beauty. Although I should be doing this everyday with everything I am grateful for.