Sunday, November 04, 2007

A hike into autumn

Late this afternoon I took one of those walks from our porch that soon have me deep in the quasi-wilderness up the hillside. The network of roads and paths drew me farther and farther from home so that I ended up being gone well into dusk and deep shadow.

For some of the walk my iPod provided a sound track. Bossa Nova’s syncopated lilt carried me along at first. Then I shut it off and listened to the sylvan stillness and my footfall,

Finally, after an hour of trail trudging, traffic on Terwilliger Parkway intruded.

I scrolled to Gene Harris’ lilting “Autumn in New York” as I walked along the parkway, thinking of my own first autumn in New York so long ago, in the fall of ’64.

I was in Peace Corps training at Teachers College, learning Swahili. We lodged at the old Paris Hotel on Amsterdam Avenue, 30 blocks from the Columbia University Campus. Occasionally I’d forsake the rumbling underground A-Train to treat myself to an ambling, leaf-shuffling stroll through Riverside Park.

Harris’ piano (the album is "Blue Gene," if you are interested) brought back memories of those long ago walks on the park's broad arcade. The moms looking over their toddlers at play in the sandboxes. The dog walkers. Roller skaters. The listless Hudson River. Leaves pin-wheeling down.

Autumn in New York.

Autumn on my walk today was patterns and signs. The rhythm of lingering leaves, notes on nature’s staff. A November melody on the black, meandering branches. Slanting sunlight filtered and flickering through yellow and orange.

The jarring 1-800-GOT-JUNK sign along the well-used Fairmount “linear park.” (Here’s a company with no shame.) A walk down Trail 1 on the darkening eastern slope. A worry about invasive ivy and then relief at happening on downed, trail-side piles of vines that volunteers had hacked and pulled from the forest.

A sign inviting hikers to pitch in on the first Saturday of the month. I made a mental note to help.

Street lamps now lit the the parkway and cars cruising its curves. How far I’d been lured by this beguiling autumn evening. I turned for home, back up the darkening hill. The day melted into darkness and night.

We'll soon be left with bones of trees invisibly preparing for rebirth. In that damp cold of December and January, we must find solace and warmth in the promise of spring.

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