It is autumn across the country. The aspen leaves in Colorado are yellowing and browning, the maple leaves in Vermont going red, purple, orange on their way to the forest floor. Days are pinched, nights long and longer. Here is a killing frost, a pane of puddle-ice. Here is the crock-pot, the chipped mug, the trusty sweater. The smell of smoke. The shadows. Here at last is the cold, the loneliness we have missed.
Summer is a pretty face, easy to love but without substance. So writes my dear friend Sean, and I agree. My body is tired with all the smiling, my mind heavy with that burden of relentless light. Goodbye, pretty face. So long, fare thee well. Here at last is a snug wool hat over headphones and a walk through the folded hills on a cloudy afternoon, deep into music.
For a decade, autumn has meant Arvo Part and his ten minutes of pure drift, “Spiegel im Spiegel.” I thank Sean for making the introduction. I’d just moved from Vermont to San Francisco, a city of blossoms and hummingbirds that feels like birth even in October, and I was not doing well with the change. A piece of me, a leaf inside, was withering, curling at the edges, drying out, as though trying to compensate for what could not be found in the local landscape.
When the song arrived, via e-mail, I was alone with a bottle of wine and an intention to drink it down to empty. I did, lying in bed, headphones on, the piano and violin speaking calmly to one another of sorrow and beauty, how the two are always one. I heard colors in the music. I saw Sean in Vermont, in the mountains of our childhood, hiking beside a stream papered with foliage. I listened for hours, nodded off, dreamed those colors, woke for more. Took another gulp, then another.
Young men grow and move and move again, and always the seasons cycle. I’m in Colorado this year, rising with the dawn, walking with it, my ears searching for bugling elk. Thousands of miles away in Vermont, Sean is tuned for geese, maybe the silence of moss. Come evening we are both inside our headphones, sitting by the fireplace, entrancing ourselves to the crumbling architecture of embers. Soon my friend will send a note that says we’ve made it through another pretty face, the time has come, have a listen, enjoy.
What we humans do is associate, constantly associate, and wonder over our associations. We wonder how autumn can mean an Estonian composer named Arvo, how Arvo can mean a friend named Sean, how Sean can mean a long-ago bottle of wine, a tree just barely holding the last of its leaves, a tree there in the distance letting go. We wonder how a season can be a song and a song can be sorrow tightening our chest, welling up as tears. We wonder how that tightening, that welling, can be the beauty we’ve waited all summer to feel.
I stop on the trail. In German, “Spiegel im Spiegel” means “mirror in the mirror.” Closing my eyes, I see an infinity of images, everything reflecting everything else. In the music’s inner darkness, vision reaches across the country, from Colorado to Vermont and beyond. I open my eyes. I glimpse dear old friends. Colors. It is autumn everywhere, the aspens yellowing and browning, the maples going red, purple, orange on their way to the forest floor.
Leath Tonino’s short story, “Salisbury Cathedral,” appeared in NER 33.3. He is a freelance writer and a poetry editor at the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.
NER Digital is New England Review’s online project dedicated to original creative writing for the web. “Confluences” presents writers’ encounters with works of art such as books, plays, poems, films, paintings, sculptures, or buildings. To submit an essay to our series, please read our guidelines.