Autumn is not one of my favorite times of the year. Not quite as dark and devastating as the dead of winter, to me, it still reeks of decline and death. And sadness. Enough to drown all my resilience in deep depression. Just thinking about the upcoming long hard upstate New York winter, fogs over the richness of the harvest time and the changing colors of the hills.
Bright lights and time spent with good friends is the best medicine for me this time of the year. And last Wednesday, I went to a campfire at a friend’s house. The night air was still warm enough to wear just a single light jacket; the sky was deep and clear. People, maybe twenty or thirty, sat in chairs around the campfire. I knew most of them from our Sunday morning hikes. Many were musicians and they sang rock’n’roll, American folk and Celtic music. They played Celtic whistles and an uillean pipe, a djembe and a bodhran drum. There were fiddles and guitars.
And then there was my friend’s beautiful, enchanting twenty-something year old daughter. She had baked amazing oatmeal-zucchini-butterscotch chip cookies and she went around the circle offering her cookies and popcorn. She managed the making of the s’mores, handing out the long double-pronged roasting sticks and helping to sandwich the roasted marshmallows into graham crackers lined with chocolate. She tended the fire, bending low to the ground and blowing the coals until the waves of flames danced up and embers riddled the air in cracking jeweled fireworks. A dancer, her every movement matched the music. I sat back in my chair, mesmerized by this magical young woman. And when the fire was really roaring and the music was right, she stepped up on the rocks that circled the campfire, barefoot, balancing carefully. And then she walked all around the fire, gracefully, thoughtfully, from rock to rock. The light of the fire played on her face as she intently studied the flames and each rock.
“Marika, you’re too close to the fire,” I said, so many times to my own daughter at long ago campfires. “Step back.”
“Mom, can you put together my marshmallow sandwich?” she would beg. Even as a teenager, she loved roasting the marshmallows and teasing the fire more than assembling or eating the s’mores .
“Mareek, stop waving the burning stick; you’ll hurt someone.”
The scene of another spirited young woman playing around a fire, and memories of past campfires, sat comfortably with me and warmed me that night. It wasn’t until late the next day, when I was walking in dried crackling leaves and heard the sound of crunching gravel as a car came closer down the driveway, that I felt a stab, followed by the heavy clout of sadness. For a second, I expected the dented old Toyota to pull up, music blasting, leaves flying behind it. Marika would show up suddenly like this, in September, just before dinnertime, tumbling out of the car, carrying a full laundry bag, with her dog pulling at the leash. I feel a soft warm breeze as she rushes past me.
She comes to me in autumn. For some reason, she always returns in autumn.