Signs of Fall

(reposted from Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin's blog:, dated October 23, 2011 – pre-winter storm!)

When we lived in the northern hinterlands of New Jersey (in what now seems lifetimes ago), we knew that summer had arrived when Gene, our gentle next-door neighbor, opened up his above-ground pool.

He would clean and remove the leaf-laden cover, wash off the sides, and unshock the water. (I don't even want to know the chemical composition of the water, after a decade or more of being shocked and unshocked, shocked and unshocked. Though it did save thousands of gallons of water!)

If he did this on a weekend, we all would have the pleasure of seeing fall, winter and spring peeled away, layer by layer. If on a weekday, we would come home – greeted by this long hoped-for sign of summer.

We all need these signature moments, these small acts that help us set down markers in time's indivisible trek; these signposts that signal to us – amid our demanding distractions – that we have crossed from here to there; that we are part of an folding mystery so much deeper than our daily affairs allow us to pause and note.

Now, it is true that on a wooded lot, you would think the signs of fall are obvious enough. I rake the leaves off my gravel path one morning and by the next, they are back, thicker than before.

But there are other, more telling signs, that truly herald the presence of fall.

1) The sun now enters our home through windows it missed in summer. Both because of the height of the summer sun's journey and the presence of full foliage, the front rooms of our house get only a dappling of direct sunlight from June to September. But in the fall, the sunlight comes pouring in, so much so that I cannot see the images on my computer screen.

2) The sky is bigger now. This comes with the falling foliage. We can see so much more of the sky. We can see the daily drama of sunrise and sunset played out not only in the rise and fall of the day's light, but in the changing canvas of the heavens themselves. And in dusk's reflection on the stalwart, remaining golden leaves of our poplar trees, our woods are bathed in a light almost as glorious as Jerusalem's ethereal sunsets (without the soft pinks).

3) The noise. If you strain in the summertime, with the air laden with moisture and leaves, you can just make out the hum of I-695 about a mile away. And you never hear the freight train whistle that rolls by two miles away. Not so in the fall. In the dry, crisp, naked air of fall, you can hear the trucks whizzing by, and the whistle of the hundred-car train ferrying goods from town to town.

The buffer between our home and the mad dash of civilization is peeled back every fall. Laterally, it is a reminder – which we occasionally wistfully veer toward forgetting – of the indivisibility of nature, action, and humanity.

And even more, vertically, it is a reminder that from where I stand, looking up, beneath the still-proud congregation of shedding tulip poplars, it is a straight shot up to the heavens. Nothing obscures or interrupts my connection to the grandest galaxy in the universe except the nuisance of space.

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