Fall Light

We wake up these days in the eerie predawn twilight, half-expecting the bright morning of summer.  But that’s gone.  The cats are less anxious about early rising, sleeping in as long as we do.  The neighbor’s young cat Alice spends her whole day cavorting around her own and the next-door backyards, occasionally getting as far as our place, two houses away.  She futilely stalks squirrels, chases invisible mice, climbs a few feet up big trees after a running start.  She’s done it all summer, and without her probably even knowing it her hours are more limited and her kittenish days are numbered.  Soon it will be too icy for cavorting, and by next summer Alice will probably be less exuberant in her ways.  I enjoy her antics, and the daylight, while I can.

Alice is playing now, at 4:50 p.m., in a yard of lengthening and darkening shadows.  Night falls sooner just as day begins later.  We had some 90º days only last week, but the mornings warmed up slowly, the less humid high temperature marks were hit briefly in mid-afternoon, and then almost immediately it started dropping again, well back into the low 60°s.  There’s so much more nighttime now that the  air is cooled more intensely during the night, the earth stays cooler, and the daytime heat of the sun has more to overcome.

And it’s at the wrong angle to do so.  Lower in the sky, it casts long shadows even at noon.  No matter what time of day I ride on the W&OD now, half the time I’m in deep shade, feeling cooler, sometimes even cold.  The spots along the trail where that cold air lurks and concentrates now radiate an authoritative chill, just as the heat traps radiated hot pockets of air all summer.  And the shady spots are truly dark.  An approaching runner shouted to me today as I passed another bike, afraid I would not see him and get back over.  I’d seen him already, but better safe than sorry.  I do the same thing.  So the traditional Saturday dodge-’em game goes on with new rules.  You have to peer into shadows, especially when there are scads of long, slow family trains, totally unattended toddlers on tricycles (yes, there are!), conversations on the trail among “walkers” who are standing stock still to gab, and riders on cell phones (they hear “hang up and ride!” from me).

Today would attract anyone outside, I’ll admit.  The sky was that “Bellini blue” that only Venetian renaissance masters had in hand.  It’s intense, it’s dark, almost all the way down to the horizon.  Giovanni Bellini’s sky in “St. Jerome Reading,” Titian’s in “Bacchus and Ariadne,” are like that.  Our Bellini skies come from dry northern air masses, and they’re so dark because there are few water vapor particles, atmospheric pollutants, and other floating matter in the air to reflect sunlight.

And we’d all been waiting through two days of extraordinary tropical storminess for this air to arrive.  After a solid month and more of hot drought we overshot our average September rainfall thanks to 4+” on September 30 and some additional showers the next day.  The deluge was the remnants of some tropical storm, and the upper air currents it was generating pulled air from Antigua, Jamaica, and vicinity up along the Atlantic coast all the way to New England.  Even the Red Sox and Yankees were postponed in Boston (in a game regrettably devoid of meaning) by Caribbean rain.  The new air gustily blew in last night, and today all was dry and calm, bright and shady, crowded and happy, on the Trail.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

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