Fall is a blissful time in Wisconsin. Catherine Jagoe celebrates the best of the season before our retreat into winter.
On my early morning walk, I see streams of people on bikes and in cars, rushing places with their backpacks and brief-cases: all that industry and purpose, just when the avian and vegetable world is finally done with its own urgency and lolling around, sluggish in the sultry heat, at a lull, a pendulum pausing before it gathers momentum. The nests have been built, filled and emptied; the chicks hatched, fledged and flown; flowers have budded, bloomed, and been pollinated; seeds have been formed and released; ears of corn have swelled behind their silks, and worms have eaten the tips. Jewel-weed looms over the bike path near the lake, huge and overgrown, shrinking the trail almost to a tunnel.
The trees are so full and laden with leaves they look like ships of the line. Such volumes of living, photosynthesizing tissue. A mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen over the summer as ten people inhale in a year. But their green color is tired; they are a darker shade now. Many of the maple leaves are blemished with tarry spots ringed with yellow, which remind me of puncture repair patches for bicycles. Things have heavy heads; the pear trees are laden with green fruit, some of it littering the ground. The sidewalk is dwarfed by a line of enormous sunflowers weighted down by their own ponderous manes and faces. In the neighboring yards there are tomato plants drooping under their reddening globes and ovals, their leaves bedraggled, drained of color, flagging with the effort of reproducing; blazing marigolds and giant zinnias. In our own front yard there are great cream hydrangea heads so heavy and lush with panicles that they threaten to break the branches; on rainy days they are bowed in U-shapes. The shrub itself has grown enormous, reaching up to the top of the living-room window. The walnut tree is firing off great lime-green missiles that sound like gun-shots when released and thud to the earth for the squirrels and chipmunks gnaw on, leaving black detritus that stains our deck, clothes, skin.
The outdoor pools have closed for the season, but I am still stained with my swimmer’s tan as if I’d been daubed with walnut-juice by the wicked queen in a fairy tale—panda-eyes where my goggles were and a stripe of milky forehead below my hairline, left by my cap. When I can no longer swim outdoors, I feel a great sense of loss.
Walking home, I realize the colors of fall wildflowers in Wisconsin are yellow, purple and white. Yellow for goldenrod, sunflowers, black-eyed Susans, mullein, sneezeweed, compass plant, tansy, and butter-and-eggs. Purple for asters and knapweed. White for snakeroot, boneset, yarrow, and Queen Anne’s lace. The yellow, purple and white flag belongs to the city of Kyoto, which Japanese poet Basho described as a place so lovely, we long for it even while we are there. Like this fall morning in Wisconsin, shining in the face of the oncoming cold and dark.