When I left the ranch this Labor Day for a leisurely little lunch ride, the front pastures were dotted with bright yellow dandelions. They looked as if Van Gogh had dipped his expressionist brush in pigment of his own making and flung it across the verdant fields. As dry as these waning days of summer have been, those long-legged 'lions are just about all that have grown since the last mowing. That pampered, shallow-rooted Washington grass just doesn't do well during the laconic stretch when our daily dose of rain takes its annual vacation.
Motoring into the yard a few hours later, I was taken aback when I saw those same pastures. I dismounted, removed my helmet and looked around in bewilderment. It seemed that some benevolent stranger had mowed the yard while I was gone, all three acres of it. Upon closer inspection I saw that it had not been mowed but rather, in the course of a few short hours, the brilliant yellow dandelions had turned to seed. Their fuzzy little heads had followed the breeze to wherever summer things go to hide this time of year.
Autumn has always been both my most and my least favorite season and very early autumn days like today produce the first inklings of my underlying melancholy. Wandering the back roads today reminded me of the paradox of the Great Northwest. For over three hundred days a year we endure more dank, dreary weather than it seems our beleaguered souls can take, but on those 58 when the sun does shine, there is no more beautiful place anywhere on this bright blue ball. Truth be told, there are quite a few other days when we get at least a taste of that beauty and for the rest of the time we have coffee. It's not really a bad trade-off.
Today was still plenty lush along the back roads and byways but a bit dry in a few tell-tale fields and the rivers and streams immodestly revealed their rocky bottoms. If you looked close you could see a twinge of yellow, maybe even some orange and red creeping into the leaves on the trees that aren't evergreen, even while cotton glinted in the shafts of sunlight beaming through the branches. Summer, that most precious commodity here in this extreme corner of our country, is waning while winter steals in to lurk in the lazy autumn shade, ready to pounce.
When I was young it seemed that summers lasted forever. We ran barefoot in the cool, soft grass, drank homemade root beer and burned hotdogs on a stick while we talked about what we'd do when we grew up, even though it seemed that day would never come. Dandelions that turned from sunflower yellow into fluffy little mops did not signal anything more than a chance to have some fun blowing their pods to the wind.
To Mrs. Erickson, the old widow next door, dandelions were her enemy. She spent hours on her knees with her little forked tool, meticulously digging them up, one by one, day after day. We were amused by her obsession but too young to understand that purging them from her perfect lawn was what gave her a reason to get up in the morning. It provided a distraction from her loneliness.
Now as I approach my own autumn, it is more difficult to let go of those long, lazy summer afternoons when the sun refuses to set. Lately the years seem to fly past like mile markers on the Interstate and I find myself trying to stay ahead of the meloncholy while the early afternoon shadows grow long.
I have to stop, fill my lungs with warm early-autumn air and remind myself to live in the moment. Tomorrow the dandelions may be gone and dark, dank winter may cause my tired old bones to ache but today - this moment - is exquisite and fleeting.
I can worry about tomorrow tomorrow.
** All photos by the author