Passing into autumn

Last Saturday was the last official day of summer. The Autumn Equinox rolled in unceremoniously on Sunday, Sept. 23, granting us equal amounts of daylight and night. From now on, the light will be slowly ebbing as winter and its long nights settle in.

The full moon on Wednesday was the Harvest Moon. The one the singer asks to shine on "for me and my gal." Driving home at sunset that night, I played hide-and-seek with the fat-faced autumnal moon as it peeped out from behind the mountains. At one point, the moon rested its chin on a mountain ridge sporting a long handlebar mustache made from a slip of a cloud.

By the time I got home, the moon had ascended up into the sky, from which vantage point it sent out a radiant display of the light that the upcoming season would be taking from us.

Summer's here and then it's gone, almost without transition. Hot days melt into cool ones and the next thing you know, there is snow on the very hills where the Harvest Moon played only weeks ago.

My wife and I spent the last day of summer up at Lake of the Woods celebrating a friend's 38th birthday. Her mother, husband and children were there to help her celebrate. The family had driven down from Portland and were spending a couple of days in a cabin at the lake. Their neighbor's family also came.

Between the two sets of families there were four boys around 6 years old and younger. The boys and I and another adult friend went down to the lake where the boys said they had a raft. Well, it wasn't really theirs but, well, yes it was. And they were exploring and planning on picking up a long metal pipe lying and rusting peacefully on the shore to bring back to the cabin for a flagpole. And there was a huge boulder that needed to be cracked open for some unspecified enterprise.

Images of Tom Sawyer came to mind watching Ben Rogers walk by "personating" that he was driving the steamboat the Big Missouri, "and considered himself to be drawing nine feet of water. He was boat and captain and engine bells combined, so he had to imagine himself standing on his own hurricane deck and giving the orders and executing them."

Our four Portland boys clambered over the rocks and ran through the trees "tripping along on all sorts of delicious expeditions," as Tom Sawyer would say.

Or as Robert Louis Stevenson put it, "The world is so full of a number of things I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings."

We two adults who tagged along were clearly invisible. We had been boys in our day and were now being treated to one of those privileged glimpses you are sometimes privy to — the world of a small child as it exists when you aren't there to break the spell.

When my two grandchildren arrived a little later, there were six boys ranging in age from 3 to six and a half. All of them played together beautifully, making the day up as they went along. One of the boys had fallen off a log earlier in the day. It was probably three feet in diameter. When I asked how far he had fallen, he said, quite matter-of-factly, "Eighteen feet."

He was one of the older boys who had just started first grade. When in the course of his school days will he learn the difference between 3 feet and 18 feet? Or drawing nine feet of water? When will he know a long, rusty metal pole is too heavy and too tall to be a flagpole?

"Suddenly Christopher Robin began to tell Pooh about some of the things (he was learning in school): People called Kings and Queens and something called Factors, and a place called Europe, and an island in the middle of the sea where no ships came, and how to make a Suction Pump (if you want to), and when Knights were Knighted, and what comes from Brazil."

The afternoon wound on. There was marshmallow roasting. Balloons were blown up and used to bop one another. There was an impromptu game of monster tag. And there was laughter. And faces wearing birthday-cake frosting and crumbs.

And the next day, on the other side of the ocean, the great mime Marcel Marceau slipped away from us at the age of 84. He would have been right at home with the gaggle of little people scampering about Lake of the Woods. And he would have played tag with the Harvest Moon.

"Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us without words?" He said once. Yes, he spoke. But he spoke loudest when he was silent. Like the shores of Lake of the Woods when the summer and the children have gone.

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