Signs of autumn are increasing. Crickets everywhere, for one thing. I like having them sing me to sleep through an open window, but am not thrilled when they hop across the house, or chirp relentlessly from a corner of the kitchen at midnight.
Hints of yellow in the occasional treetop, and a wooly caterpillar in the flowerbed tell a story I don’t want to hear. Soon, blackbirds will line up on fences and congregate in the grove to plan their departure.
I always hated school, and of course this is the time of year we come face to face with the inevitable captivity. I was a good student, and liked learning, but school meant being cooped up indoors after a summer of freedom to roam the hills on my horse, pick wildflowers, take a cane pole to the lake, or sit on a hilltop to watch the sunset. After going barefoot for three months, my feet burned and ached inside new shoes which often got kicked off under my desk. For some reason, teachers disapproved of stocking feet in the classroom.
The September that I departed for college was when the realization hit me that nothing was ever going to be the same again. I had just turned seventeen, and after boarding in town for all of my school years, was long over homesickness, but the thought of no more weekends at the ranch was devastating. Chadron might as well have been the end of the earth. I had never even been there until the day I moved into the dorm. Luckily, I was assigned a roommate from the Sandhills so we had things in common.
There were a few other students from my home area, and one or two had cars, so when we all got too homesick, word would go around that Jim or Joe was headed east on Friday, and anyone willing to chip in for gas was welcome to ride as far as the driver’s home town. From there it was up to us hitchhikers to arrange for a parent or someone to meet us. I can’t recall how those plans were made, since my folks didn’t have a phone but, somehow connections worked out.
With that being said, you’ll understand why the advent of autumn always brings an edge of sadness for me. Years ago, when I was becoming myself, that is, coming out of the closet as a writer, I wrote a lot of poetry, and that’s still the first compartment of my writing life. I have file upon file of “borrowed poems” sent to me by poet friends. We writers exchange poems the way sibling sisters trade off wearing one another’s clothes. Recently, sorting through those papers, I came across one of my favorites titled, Blackbird Fall. Jo Maseberg was a young neighbor getting ready to go off to college, who wrote wistfully of leaving her ranch home and knowing her life was about to change forever. That was thirty years ago, but her words echo in my head every fall.
Today I hunted for an hour and a half for that poem, thinking to quote a few lines in this space, but it never surfaced. I’ve no clue where Jo is today, but if anyone does know, tell her that blackbird fall has comforted me often when I’m resisting change that’s inevitable. And if you are unwillingly facing a life change, know that it will be all right. Different, yes, but all will be well.