Maybe this was it, Missoula.
Maybe those golden days of autumn last week before the clouds blew in again were our glimmer of relief between a summer of fire, and winter.
Maybe all those reds, yellows, oranges and still-greens that color your conscious and subconscious are already palettes of the past. Even so, they did more for the soul than chicken soup ever could.
Accentuated by the light play of October, shadows flickered and mesmerized us into believing that lost summer of smoke never really happened.
Maybe you had a chance to walk down McLeod Avenue, where the sugar maples strutted their stuff. In that part of town, the university district, leaves swirled and piled into layers on the streets. Passing vehicles sent them all a-whirl. They settled down until the next car came by. Of course, they’ll never survive.
Nothing says Montana like the majestic Ponderosa pine and the forest cathedrals it composes. But as an evergreen, our stately state tree can only bow with the rest of us to the color show below, secure in knowledge forged over millennia that the grandeur is only fleeting.
It’s hard not to personalize this turn of season, the leaves drained of green to reveal their essence, then dying; the mellow of a day’s warmth that no one counts sustainable. Yes, it will be winter and all the glories that promises. But those are transient too.
In this season of maybes, perhaps Pema Chodron was right: The point isn’t to overcome a problem (or a season).
“The truth is that things don’t really get solved,” she wrote. “They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that.”
Healing, Chodron concludes, comes from making room for grief, relief, misery and joy to happen.
Maybe that’s what autumn leaves are here to remind us of.
Or: Give your rake a break, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation urged on its Facebook page last week.
“Leaves contribute a lot to the health of your lawn. By simply mowing them instead of raking, you are adding nutrient-rich material to your lawn.
"Fallen leaves create habitat for critters like chipmunks, earthworms, and butterflies. You can also use them as mulch in your garden beds or as compost!”
As of this writing Thursday, there’s a tenuous forecast for sunshine in the middle of the coming week. Surely some leaves will still be clinging. Larch on the north- and east-facing slopes that took their time to turn this year will flash their boldest gold. They say three or four days will be unseasonably balmy, then snow by Halloween.
Eventually, your favorite creek will ice over. The delicious heartaches of dawn and dusk will drift closer and closer together. October’s golden blush will be forgotten by December. The slant of sun will cast winter shadows that invoke their own memories, sweet and otherwise. The pungency of wood smoke will linger, not oppressive this time but comforting and nostalgic.
It’ll get cold. Maybe mind-numbing cold.
Then that creek will thaw, the rivers start to rise. The pulse of spring isn’t yellow and mellow but green and energizing. Hayfields will ripen, maybe lush like this year before the dry spell set in. Huckleberries will show, green then red, then perfect purple if you go high enough to find them.
Maybe the fires and smoke won’t linger next summer. The earth won’t quake above Lincoln, and the moon won’t block the August sun. Maybe these gilded days of fall will stretch from September to November.