With subtle sounds, sights, seasons change

September 23, 2004|By Patricia Meisol

All the signs were there the past few days: cooler evenings, foolishly warm days, brisk winds that required a trip to the attic for sweaters.

But the moment, when it arrived yesterday, came quietly.

We witnessed it just west of Patapsco State Park, on a little lane in Ellicott City named Autumn Branch. Turning onto the lane, we saw a speedboat sitting on blocks. Brown swags of leaves, remnants of the cicadas' visit, hung from still-green oak and birch branches, harbingers of their sisters yet to fall.

A woman drove up, parked in front of her apartment, and got out carrying a bouquet of brown and reddish oak leaves.

The faint sound of children drifted through the trees. After a few moments, the kids appeared on a small green corner, four of them, wearing backpacks. Three mothers stood with them, talking. The time was 12:16 p.m. Four minutes later, a yellow school bus pulled up and the children climbed aboard, leaving behind the women to disperse and a small rocking horse on a metal coil to stand alone.

A woman walked along the parking lot, following a split-rail fence guarding a thicket of trees and, behind them, the white-brick apartments. Then, it was quiet.

A swaggering yellowjacket dropped down on a car windshield, too listless to find its way.

A truck drove up, suspending the silence, and a man carrying equipment emerged. He headed inside the railing, through the trees, toward the buildings. Most of the decks were empty; on others, chairs had been stacked and umbrellas lowered. The quiet was loud again and, like the hot sun, it couldn't continue forever. But there it was, beating back the words of Rainer Maria Rilke's poem, Autumn Day:

Lord, it is time. Let the great summer go ...

Then came the sound, the crackling of leaves, last year's leaves, under the feet of the man as he walked back and forth to his truck. It was 12:30 p.m., the day of the equinox, and autumn had arrived.

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