It is the burnished season. At last.
The sheep and goats amble across the pasture these late afternoons in a wash of amber and the trees around the house are clothed with rainbows, green and crimson and scarlet, tawny gold and flaming orange, blended into a dreamy patchwork amid the thin blue vapors of woodsmoke and autumn mists. Sunday night when we came out of Evensong the moist air was spiced with incense that had wafted out with us as we opened the huge wooden doors, blent bewitchingly with the sweet evanescence of elaeagnus that was abroad, and the ginger-colored leaves on the branches about the cathedral were lit from beneath in the sun’s last slanting rays till they glowed like living coals.
It’s one of my very favorite times, this mad second youth of the year, more beautiful in its maturity than even the careless loveliness of April and May. And definitely more poignant in all its brave show. Already the golden leaves of ginkos and hickories have made a yellow carpet upon the lawns of my town, and tonight’s rain will assuredly rob the great silken-trunked crepe myrtle outside my window of its last clinging jewels. But what a lovely autumn it’s been. And what a stirring of anticipation as we lean closer and closer towards the brightest and best days that the calendar affords!
This past weekend we had the joy of celebrating all of the wealth and abundance that this season represents: the staggering kindnesses of God, the mercies of both shadow and shade, the harvest of a year’s worth of faltering paces towards the heaven we’ve all been made for. In company of ‘fellow sojourners’ that are like family and with the bright festivity of the holiday season beckoning past resistance, we gathered in the home of beloved friends for an evening of music and fellowship and autumnal fare. The Michaelmas Party we called it, more in the spirit of the Oxford term schedule than the actual feast day (which is in September, as any British readers would doubtless smilingly point out to these American Anglophiles!;)).
My friend’s home was soft with candlelight and firelight and we were greeted by the aroma of mulled wine and spices, evocative of so many other glad and golden hours spent in one anothers’ company. The table was spread with seasonal offerings: poached pears, pumpkin cakes, aromatic cheeses, a cobbler plump with berries—just the sight of which was a feast for the eyes. And the rooms themselves were lovelier still. Flaming maple leaves nearly incandescent with light and color bloomed out from cupboards and shelves. Grapevines were wound with artful abandon over the mantle and holly berries rubbed shoulders with auburn foliage in an apt image of the overflow of joy from one season to the next. This was the Opening Ceremonies—“The kickoff for Christmas!” It was exchanged like a greeting through the rooms with all the joy of children. The tenderly-sweet overture. The Commencement.
And when those of us who had stepped out into the clement night heard the bells chiming the hour in the church tower down the street, our hostess informed us that it was time for the evening’s entertainment to begin. Our violinists ranged from nine years old to professional. A classical guitarist literally transported us all to Turkey with his spell-binding rendition of Domeniconi’s Koyunbaba during which you could have heard a pin drop in the room, we were all so breathless. And my friends and I performed some of our beloved English songs, Purcell and Byrd and that ilk, with a Palestrina thrown in for good measure. One of our rounds, while lighthearted enough a game of musical ‘catch’, touched a winsome chord in the light of the year’s hardships:
Let’s sing and cheer our hearts tonight!
We sum up all delights in one, in sweet delights of time and tune.
I will not count the care times bring—
I’ll only count my time to sing.
Our friends’ little daughter looked like a subject of Sargeant’s in her long velveteen dress and hair flowing in waves down her back, and the seriousness of her still-childishly lined face as she worked her bow with genuine skill and precision gave me a turn. How could that be the little baby brought over in a Moses basket to one of the first dinner parties Philip and I hosted just after we were married? It was a pluck at my sleeve. A not-so-subtle hint that, as Jo March would say, ‘change comes just as surely as the seasons, and twice as fast’.
We closed our portion of the program with a Burgundian carol entitled Oxen and Sheep, simply because it was so lovely we couldn’t help it. And the lullaby-like All My Heart:
Love him who with love is yearning!
Hail the star that from far
Bright with hope is burning!
When the tapers had burned low and the party was reduced to the few clinging round the hearth, we played charades at the request of our little velveteen-clad violinist, and laughed till the tears came at the ensuing antics. And Philip and I stayed even later—well into the wee sma’s—gathering punch cups and coffee cups and silver forks, reminiscing in the kitchen and relishing the ‘sweet delights’ of friends loved past expression and times that make life the beautiful journey Home that it is.
“The goldenest of golden times,” I told my friend the next day.
Touched with the gilding of autumntide itself.