Summer has passed her crown to Fall. The shift has been gentle, unlike the arguments that entangle Winter and Spring. Nonetheless, she shows last minute reluctance, as we all do, happy to feel the edge of heat give way to the frisson of autumn nights, but saddened by her exit. I also enter into negotiations—with the aged crabapple tree standing imperturbable on the graceful shoulder of a grassy hill.
We began the conversation a month or so ago. The air had quickened and the turkeys, skunks, and squirrels focused their efforts to gather the season’s last banquet. (There is no shortfall like the meanness of winter). Acorns bounce down from heaven and grasshoppers dance long-legged in golden fields. All have prospered from a tender summer and the kindness of a rainy spring. But now we hasten with the sense of finitude.
Every evening, I walk out and gaze across the stretch of field to the pensive dark mountains. Every evening, the deer circle me in what has become a decades’ old ritual—the shaking of the crabapple tree.
The tree and I have aged. Her boughs and my limbs have less spring. We have grown quiet in the wisdom that comes with the cycles of love and loss. We play our game as always—she, reticent to give over her gold and reds, and I, insistent that the time to share has come.
The easy fruit is gone, most of it ravaged clean by the teeth of passing cows. She reminds me: “You have already spent some of my gold.” It is true. When the apples were newly fresh and bright, I begged and wheedled for an early crop, to give the wandering cows.
Their gaze is different than the deer, intense with foreknowledge. As soon as the hint of autumn comes, the cows are coaxed—no, coerced, into waiting trucks. None go easy. They bay and bellow, protesting the blackness of death that awaits at the slaughterhouse.
The cows are gone. The deer remain. They are more confident. Perhaps their composure draws from hope. They, at least, may imagine a fate other than the inevitable one meted out to the cows. Year after year, century after century, millennium after millennium, that knowledge passes from cow and bull to calf. The horror is bred into the marrow of their bones.
And now, the deer share a similar story. They still carry the strains of legends before the fall, the fall of the year, the fall of the buck, and the fall of the does and fawns who buckle to the ground with the feelingless lust of human hearts. They have changed. I have changed.
Together, the crabapple tree and I sit in the lonesome dusk. The slaughter is upon us. We wait, silent, comforted only that still, there is life.
Dedicated to tbp.