“Kate” A Walk into a New Year
“Kate” A Walk into a New Year
Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Death is beautiful when seen to be a law and not an accident.”
In nature beauty often attends death, quietly, inexorably. Consider the bittersweet vine, its autumn beauty spreading deliberately along the margins of northeast Ohio’s hardwood forests. For the vine, the act of commingling seems less a random desire than a living imperative, sustaining itself as it does by robbing its host of light and nutrients. And any suggestion of symbiosis or benign reciprocity between vine and tree is illusory only, a black willow in this instance struggling silently beneath the weight of bittersweet, its vine as thick as a thumb, twinning about its host and, not without irony, explodes in a splendorous display of coral berries and orange calyx.
On the east bank, perched on a shelf of shale and siltstone 15 feet above the Chagrin River and less than a half mile south of the Gates Mills bridge, a trio of American Sycamores flanked left by young beech, right by a small hoary oak, brace for the first storm of the season. Yesterday my own mood, no doubt informed by radio reports, had me observing the landscape through a lens of apprehension. Quite conceivably the anxiety was also being shared beneath the forest floor, through messages exchanged between trees in a neural and biological network as beautiful and complex as that which grows above. Within that network of roots and ribosomes, early warnings manifest for changes in weather, disease and nutrients; challenges trees address through shared resources and a sense of community.
Today the landscape is white, dead and two dimensional.
In 2007 I published “Autumn Rails I”, an image of this railroad track disappearing into the morning fog. Five years later (2012) I published “Autumn Rails II” taken from the same section of track in the blue light of early morning. The night before, heavy winds had stripped the trees of color, all except a small Hawthorne its auburn leaves intact, defiantly bracing into winter. This latest image was taken the last week in October. For me it’s a metaphor of promise, ephemeral of course, but one that augers well for future seasons of renewal.
Looking north into this frame the tracks form the western boundary of Schweitzer marsh. For five decades I’ve walked these rails, through each season, through the twilight of many mornings, through countless days and occasionally moonless nights.
Following a morning rain in late October this year I found myself seduced by the perspective, a narrow vista of burnished rails and colors converging, its sensate hues and geometry pulling me into a vanishing point. The element I found most provocative and compelling, however, was a black cherry tree listing overhead, content with the passage of time as it slowly, deliberately, etched its shape and form through space. This old tree, leaning in, its imperfect arch only inches above and beyond the passing trains seemed to taunt the cars closer. Something I could relate to, growing old, not yet fully resigned, a few leaves still clinging, still taunting.
At Fairmount and River Roads, on the eastern bank of the Chagrin river, for one week only, an acre or two of sugar maple stake their claim in time and space. Rising above oaks and pines, beech and sycamore, a cloud of burnished gold like souls ascending; 231,000 but who’s counting?