Wednesday, October 01, 2008

"But I miss you most of all / My darling / When autumn leaves / Start to fall"

{Photo by rocketlass.}

In Tuesday's post, I mentioned in passing that in my current re-reading of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, I have found myself paying attention to aspects of the novel that would never have held my attention the first time I read it, at age twenty. In particular, I find myself sinking pleasantly into Hardy's lush, detailed descriptions of the natural life of the countryside, just as I find myself these days far more attentive than I was at that age to the wildlife that shares my city, from the peregrine falcons who nest across the street, to the juncos who visit in the spring and fall, to the humble sparrows who are my year-round window companions.

This account of the mid-summer mornings of the milking crew, which because of the long English days of that season begin dreadfully early, offers a good example of Hardy's ability to focus his--and therefore our--attention on quiet moments of interaction with nature:
At these non-human hours they could get quite close to the waterfowl. Herons came, with a great bold noise as of opening doors and shutters, out of the boughs of a plantation which they frequented at the side of the mead; or, if already on the spot, hardily maintained their standing in the water as the pair walked by, watching them by moving their heads round in a slow, horizontal, passionless wheel, like the turn of puppets or clockwork.

They could then see the faint summer fogs in layers, woolly, level, and apparently no thicker than counterpanes, spread about the meadows in detached remnants of small extent. On the gray moisture of the grass were marks where the cows had lain through the night--dark-green islands of dry herbage the size of their carcasses, in the general sea of dew. From each island proceeded a serpentine trail, by which the cow had rambled away to feed after getting up, at the end of which trail they found her: the snoring puff from her nostrils, when she recognized them, making an intenser little fog of her own amid the prevailing one.
The precision of Hardy's language, married to what can only be termed love for the humble, easily missed details of his scene--the cow's puff of recognition; the dry islands in the sea of dew--is what makes this scene come to life. The wheeling of the herons is "passionless," the fog is "woolly," the cows "ramble," their trail is "serpentine." It's language born of a belief that these aspects of Tess's existence are important enough to get exactly right, that they contribute to the self she is trying to establish and the temporary pleasure and comfort she feels in these surroundings. It works: like Tess, we are almost lulled into believing that the past can be left behind.

On this first day of October, one which the cool weather and the start of baseball playoffs agree signals the true start of autumn, it seems right close this appreciation with Hardy's account of Tess's autumnal wanderings with her beau, Angel Clare:
Thus, during this October month of wonderful afternoons they roved along the meads by creeping paths which followed the brinks of trickling tributary brooks, hopping across by little wooden bridges to the other side, and back again. They were never out of the sound of some purling weir, whose buzz accompanied their own murmuring, while the beams of the sun, almost as horizontal as the mead itself, formed a pollen of radiance over the landscape. They saw tiny blue fogs in the shadows of trees and hedges, all the time that there was bright sunshine elsewhere. The sun was so near the ground, and the sward so flat, that the shadows of Clare and Tess would stretch a quarter of a mile ahead of them, like two long fingers pointing afar to where the green alluvial reaches abutted against the sloping sides of the vale.
This afternoon in Philadelphia, the shadow of the grandstand will creep across home plate, making pitches dart elusively between darkness and light; as it grows dark tonight at Wrigley Field, the chill we remember from Opening Day back in April will settle in alongside the hopes we harbored then, and are lucky enough to still maintain.

It's the best time of the year, time for chili and beer and magic jack-o-lanterns. Time to play ball.

{Ozzie-o-lantern, and photo, by rocketlass.}

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