Fall colors on Fourche Creek.

There are those who might dispute this, but October is the finest month of the year in Arkansas. It’s usually when the sweltering heat of summer gives way, at last, to perfect weather, by which I mean sunny, soft-breezy, and 70s. It passes quickly. But not without a few glory days when one might take a slow drive from Ozark up Highway 23, then 16 through St. Paul to Huntsville, and on to Eureka Springs if there’s time. Windows down. Dappled light filters through the canopy of trees and showcases every autumn color: scarlet, Valencia, green, russet, and of course yellow gold—her hardest hue to hold.

The sky has just emptied itself of cold rain as I write this. It’s as gray as steel. I am not on Highway 23, but in my house on the bluff of the Arkansas River. The mountainside across from me looks like a big box of crayons, that huge, deluxe set that felt like a treasure chest when opened by my elementary-school-aged hands. But it is not bathed in light. Instead it is veiled in mist and all of the colors that have been so bold and lively seem to be quieting themselves, putting away their pretty clothes. The show’s over.

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It’s a spiteful November 1. Jarring. Like some vandal broke in and scribbled with black sharpie all over The Cat with the Goldfish. And I’ve become that woman collapsed over on the table like a weeping willow. Matisse said she was sleeping but I think she’s just melancholy. After all, her youngest was the only trick-or-treater this year. The 14-year-old went along for the ride sans costume but the others stayed home, studying. One weekend night there was a houseful of little girls and spooky snacks for a Halloween party. College and graduate school students brought their stories from faraway lands, the joys of their presence, and their laundry. Dinner at Granny’s and PaPa’s was eaten, a walk in the park taken with a friend, homemade cinnamon rolls kneaded, risen, and baked for breakfast. The sun shone; all birdies were in the nest on October 31. Today they have flown. And the woman misses them, misses all of it. Even misses herself, the selves that she has been.

If there’s a better metaphor for the transience of life than the changing colors of leaves, I don’t know it. Even writing about it feels cliché. But I have noticed that most clichés qualify as such because they are universal truths people recognize repeatedly. Where else but in October’s twilight is the juxtaposition of life and loss so clear? The leaves are at their most resplendent right before they fall. Blink and you will miss the burst of yellow-orange-red that appears like a sunset, and is gone. Leaf subsides to leaf. The months transition from vibrant October into somber November. 

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And yet for all the malaise of leaves and loss there’s the urgency this time of year to savor the magic while it lasts; to be thankful; to plant the bulbs that will bloom next spring. The dual awareness that everything beautiful is also perishable spurs us on to enjoy it, to live life to the fullest, for it is fleeting. “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” asks Mary Oliver. Woman. Lift up your head.

Gwen Ford Faulkenberry describes herself as a mother, teacher, farmer, writer, seeker and failed politician. The latter remains to be seen. 

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