Some of us call it Autumn,
And others call it God.
--William Herbert Carruth
The light is changing. The sun is at a different angle, and the quality of the light is deeper, richer, more golden. Fall is a month away yet, but the high desert abides by its own seasonal rhythms.
In early August, the apricots ripen and fall to the ground, and neighbors and strangers alike ask us if they can gather the fruit. The answer is yes. There are always enough apricots to go around. The days are still hot, but live here long enough, and you know that the deep gold of apricot skins is the first flush of fall.
Just as the apricot trees finish producing an insane bounty of fruit, the sunflowers begin to bloom wildly in the disturbed earth on either side of the road. Some stretches of road are flanked by miles of sunflowers. The petals may look summery to some, but to me, they are another sign of the coming autumn.
The sunflowers are still rioting when the chile roasters, men in aprons and baseball caps, appear in front of the grocery stores and in vacant lots all around town. Big burlap bags of green chile are for sale in the stores and from the backs of pickup trucks. The men dump an entire burlap bag of chiles into huge metal mesh drums, which revolve over an open flame. The intense heat blisters the skin of the chiles—and the smell of roasting chile, pungent and rich and somehow broad, is the first scent of fall.
The chile roasters pack up and leave town about the time the chamisa blooms, cottony yellow-gold tufts of tiny flowers against the leaves of the gray-green bush. In autumns past, I have ridden my horse across the plains where it blooms. We called it sage-jumping, although it was more like sage-stirring as her long legs moved through the chamisa and the sagebrush, releasing clouds of sharp fragrance. Several times we saw migrating tarantulas. Once we saw a baby diamondback sunning itself, not in the least concerned with us. In the fall, even my horse took on a different scent, a spiciness that was distinct from the way she smelled at other times of the year. But always good. Horses always smell good to me.
The chamisa blooms are losing their color when the first gold appears in the mountains. The aspens are changing. High in the mountains, and again on horseback, I have seen red aspens, but predominantly they are gold.
The aspens are peaking when the leaves on the cottonwoods in town begin to change. Cottonwoods turn no other color but gold, but what the palette lacks in variety it makes up in intensity.
Summer and autumn are glorious, golden seasons here—precious and brief. Too quickly, the leaves fade to a dispirited tan, and the browns and whites of winter set in. Winter lasts an eternity, bearable only because of bright, deep blue skies. Spring is weeks of turbulent winds and lingering snow that melts and refreezes endlessly. Each spring, as I bump over slimy, slick, rutted, muddy roads, I am reminded of the saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” And I always think, “At least the road to hell is paved.”
Despite what lies ahead, I am not on the road to hell. As our short-lived summer slides inexorably into a fleeting fall, I am in paradise.