A friend recently wrote that he asked someone what was his favorite season, and the reply was autumn. Why? Because of the light. My friend was struck by the response, as light isn't what people usually think of when they talk about seasons. Rather, they talk about temperature, or colors, or holidays. But for those of us who seem to be very sensitive to light, autumn is a peculiarly potent time. The light begins to change in August, and by October it slants in sideways, and is rich and golden and velvety, making up with intensity what it lacks in duration. The days are getting shorter, and this lends the light a sharp poignancy. I think of a poem by Donald Justice, one of my favorites of his brilliant poems, published shortly after he died, I believe. When it appeared, I ripped it out of the magazine and pinned it to the wall by my tub, so I could read it daily. The clip curled and yellowed over the years...

"There is a gold light in certain old paintings
That represents a diffusion of sunlight.
It is like happiness, when we are happy.
It comes from everywhere and from nowhere at once, this light,
And the poor soldiers sprawled at the foot of the cross
Share in its charity equally with the cross."

Justice goes on to write about Orpheus and Eurydice; that last glance back, during their ascent from the bowels of the Earth, of how Orpheus could not resist the temptation to make sure Eurydice was with him. He did not have faith, in the power of his music, or the promise of the gods? or he cared too much?

"Orpheus hesitated beside the black river.
With so much to look forward to he looked back.
We think he sang then, but the song is lost.
At least he had seen once more the beloved back.
I say the song went this way: O prolong
Now the sorrow if that is all there is to prolong."

The light is going; the elderly must feel this way as their eyesight fails. Do they look hard at everything they can see, and stay awake as long as possible, knowing they have to store up the memories while they can? Are all near-sighted people secretly afraid of going blind? I practice for it, late at night, by walking around my house in the dark. I think, too, that if all there were to prolong was sorrow, I would hold fast to sorrow. The light now reminds me of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. "The light is very dusty, Uncle. Let us work. One day the sickness shall pass from the earth for good...And all that we suffered through having existed shall be forgotten as though it had never existed."

Autumnal thoughts, dying days; we prepare for the cold, short days of winter. Part of me dreads those blunted days, they frighten me. But there is no small part of me that yearns for the hibernation. In Rhode Island, the air is blustery and the clouds scuttle bravely across the skies, as though determined not to break up. When the winds quiet, we will have those unquenchable cerulean skies that come only in autumn. I think perhaps it is the light that is my favorite part of every season. 


pavlova said...

Oh Dominique, you have said it so well...the LIGHT! At day's end it is heartbreakingly gorgeous at this time of year.
Thank you for this lovely and thought-provoking post.

Bruce Barone said...

Beautiful Beautiful Beautiful post!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I once traveled to Cornwall for a couple of weeks in late winter. When I returned, the light had changed. It now fell into my rooms as spring, and I had missed it.
Heartbroken, I vowed to make every attempt to avoid this happening again and I now schedule my trips more carefully.

Barbara said...

Beautiful! There is nothing more beautiful than the Oct. sky.
Thanks for the post.

Debbie Richesin said...

Dominique..... Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. Thank you for putting words to my thoughts. My father turned 90 this July he is in congestive heart failure and we are running out of time. He is still a lot of fun and we are still creating great memories. I lost my Mom in June. You see this post has touched me on many levels. Again thank you for the words for my thoughts.

quintessence said...

How very beautiful - both the words and the image - you've captured the often indescribable poignancy of fall so perfectly. I was just noticing it yesterday as I was taking a long drive. It is also my favorite time of year - perhaps because it feels more substantive following the light hearted frivolity of spring and summer. No wonder it inspires such prose!

Karena said...

Dominique these are the skies I love; the billowy blustery clouds with the bright blue peaking through!

Art by Karena

david terry said...

Dear Ms. Borwning,

I expect you and your readers would/will enjoy the following song by David Wilcox (a yankee whom I first met when he moved to Asheville YEARS ago). He's a wonderful songwriter/singer, and it's a song that I expect would please many of the readers who follow your blog, for their various reasons....

go to (and, yes ma'am....pay 99 cents for; Keira Knightley is still young enough to get away with playing a pirate, but we AREN'T):


the lyrics are:

"Lightning cracks the darkness
And for a moment I can see
It's just a spark to start with
But I follow where it leads.

I won't spend my whole life hiding
Where no soul could ever thrive
I can't live with just surviving
My heart wants to feel alive

Life is change, and change looks frightening
Watch that wind I've been warned
But I live to feel this lightning
In this perfect storm

I see the twisting cloud that's turning
Where the earth and the heavens meet
I feel the voltage of that yearning
For the circuit to complete

So I will feel no resistance
To the current that will strike
I'll put my life across the distance
Where this longing turns to light

Life is change, and change looks frightening
Watch that wind I've been warned
But I live to feel this lightning
In this perfect storm...."

You've created a really wonderful thing with this blog, so I hope you don't mind folks' contributing....


David Terry

Richard Childs said...

I too wish to extend Dominique's beautiful light narrative with an autumn haiku.

Especially I hope this speaks to you Debbie Richesin.

Silvery shimmer,
wet leaves reflect distant light—
spent though path for life.

Thea Beasley said...


And, if it's possible to translate the sentiment to rain, may I?

I adore rain and the colours it makes the sky, and how the alters before, during, and after. And, just like the light of autumn, my favourite season as well, feeds my soul.

Thank you for all your lovely thoughts that you share.


SweetRetreat said...

I used to find this time of year very disquieting. The shortening days, leaves and flowers dropping, the change in light sent me scurrying into my nest.

Then I read Secret Garden and this paragraph, which instantly made me feel better. Now I like to approach each new season with the notion that in a way, being a life-long observer of the natural world, I will live forever. What a lovely post Dominique, we such fortunate readers.

"One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands alone and throws one's head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one's heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun--which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in some one's eyes."

mary said...

I have saved this post and David Terry's comment so that I can be re-enlivened when need be. Today, I am relishing this rare So. California cloudy, misty deep autumn day. The light is so perfect and the air is crisp and I'm surrounded by love. Thank you both for pushing me deeper in my quest.

Jessie C. said...

I missed my usual train into the city one day last week because I couldn't take my eyes off the changing sky and light. I stood outside in my bathrobe--too thin to keep out the autumn chill, morning coffee in hand, watching this moving picture show. I didn't want it to end. From a kindred spirit-- thank you for making it last a little longer.

Vivien said...

Hallo from England. Lovely description of autumn light - it was life-enhancing.

Very interesting to see your photos of New York. A woman living in NY writes a blog you might like, which includes descriptions and photos of the city:

City Views, Country Dreams

You have to scroll down and press on Home to get the latest blog.

Sandy said...

For the last few weeks I, too have been gazing at the skies, following the glow of the leaves up to the slant of light.

Here in the foothills of Thomas Jefferson's Virginia, I often think of what his inspirations were. The same cast of light through windows, through trees, through a mix of dark blue and white clouds.

Winter will soon be here with its deeper grays and darker shadows. But for now, we enjoy the October sky. Thank you for keeping us ever mindful of the now, the slow now.

A Gift Wrapped Life said...

It is the one time of year when I get sun on my veranda as the sun shifts. I love it.

Maria said...

Love love love that BIG sky and ionic high it generates!
So very cool - one can almost smell the freshness....

Sharen said...

Wonderful clouds! So enjoy your posts....

Anonymous said...

Oh Dominique --

How well I remember finding copies of your old expense reports with those visits to your therapist/social workers all noted so precisely. How nice of Chris Whittle to pay for that!

Solipsister said...

This blog. You've got to be kidding me.

LynnBlossom said...

Autumn is my favorite season and October is my favorite month. You're right about the light. The light changes from the bright yellow summer into the burnished golds before winter's cold greys and blues.
I went to Italy one spring and immediately when leaving the plane, noticed the difference in the ambient light. It made me wonder if the quality of the light aided the "en-light-enment" centuries ago.
I'm so glad I found this blog; it's so warm and real. I'll be back.

Anonymous said...

I think the friend's answer was perfect because that has always been one of my favorite things about Autumn over all other seasons. In So. California we don't get a dramatic change in seasons like other places. Autumn is our most dramatic season here in So. Cal. so everything about it is noticeable especially the slant of the sun's light. It has always been a special time.

Dominique said...

Sorry dear heart, companies do not pay for therapists. That's called health insurance. Glad to see you are as professional as ever.

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