Autumn Equinox

Today is one of the turnings of the year, and between now and the beginning of winter, each day will begin a little later and end a little earlier, until, when the alarm clock goes off, we find ourselves groping for our bedroom slippers in darkness.

But there are some joys to be had during the days of shrinking sunlight: walks in the golden woods, candlelight, hot soup, bread fresh from the oven, and, of course, apples in every imaginable form. Just to look at one is a pleasure. And of course there is autumnal poetry, in which this poignant season abounds.


To Autumn

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stained
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou mayst rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

‘The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

‘The spirits of the air live on the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.’
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat;
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

—William Blake

Advent 2: Day in Autumn

The second Sunday of Advent falls on the birthday of Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), and in celebration I post this seasonal poem in the original German, along with one of its numerous translations, and a painting. If you have a translation you prefer then please tell me about it.

For another Rilke poem, and a sketch, please see Holding up all this falling.



Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.
Befiel den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.
Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird Es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

—Rainer Maria Rilke (1902)

Day in Autumn

Lord: it is time. Great was the Summer’s feast.
Now lay upon the sun-dials your shadow
And on the meadows have the wind released.
Command the last of fruits to round their shapes;
Grant two more days of south for vines to carry,
To their perfection thrust them on, and harry
The final sweetness into the heavy grapes.
Who has not built his house will not start now
Who now is by himself will long be so,
Be wakeful, read, write lengthy letters, go
In vague disquiet pacing up and down
Denuded lanes, with leaves adrift below.

—Trans. Walter Arndt (1989)

Sisterhood of Squash


It’s finally getting too cold to draw from nature outdoors, so we’re sketching from the pantry, and thus cut open a recent discovery: a Sunshine Squash. (If you like winter squash, you will love this super-sweet and tender variety.)

It was my daughter who noticed the squash’s interior division into thirds, and, more subtly, sixths, and who suggested we add our squash drawings to our cucumber drawing pages. So we did. It’s exciting to find, despite their apparent exterior differences, their interior commonalities. And together they make a lovely pair. There’s a life lesson for you.



Autumn Fires

In honor of Robert Louis Stevenson’s birthday, a poem and a picture for fall.


Today is also the anniversary of the release from house arrest of courageous writer and activist Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party, after boycotting last year’s election, this month voted to re-enter Burmese politics. For her mini-bio, please see Free As a Bird.



Double Cherry Trees, November


The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I’ll put a trinket on.

—Emily Dickinson

I received a commission to paint the dramatic double-cherry trees in front of this house at two different seasons of the year (and also create two sets of seasonal cards with the results). Here they are in their golden gowns of autumn. Watch for them in spring.

And today is the birthday of amateur scientist and astronomer Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806), grandson of a slave, who surveyed the new city of Washington, DC, created a 1792 almanac that went through several editions, and corresponded with Thomas Jefferson. For a picture and a mini-bio, please see Skywatcher.


Firefighter in Autumn


As the leafy color grows more beautiful daily, I post this autumn illustration, one of a series I painted for the book The Survivor Tree by Cheryl Aubin, based on the true story of a tree that survived the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center.

For more on this book, please see The Survivor Tree.



Even the Dead Are Rising Up to Dance

In honor of Día de los Muertos, here are our skull bread and bones (although they look rather like dog biscuits) and the bilingual song by Tish Hinojosa that we sing every year after the lighting of the candles. For more on this celebration, and the recipe for anise-flavored Pan de Muerto, please see Día de los Muertos.


Hasta Los Muertos Salen a Bailar

La luna llena acaba de llegar
El otro mundo empieza a despertar
Bajo las sombras vamos a cantar
Hasta los muertos salen a bailar.
Al camposanto, hay que celebrar
Porque esta noche todo es embrujar
Y el coyote empieza a aullar
Hasta los muertos salen a bailar.


Flores, canciones, papel de colores
Olores de antojos que traen
Quienes recuerdan amores, santos, pecadores
Allí vamos a estar.
The moon is full of something on the rise
The other world is opening its eyes
Out in the graveyard, we will sing a stance
Even the dead are rising up to dance.


Love songs and flowers and papers, bright colors
And smells of the food that we bring
There we remember the saints and the sinners
This night with them we will sing.
Los embrujados salen a bailar
Y La Llorona mira donde está
Ai con la momia enruedada va
Hasta los muertos salen a bailar.
Los abuelitos salen a bailar
Tíos y tías salen a bailar
Hasta monjitas van de allá pa’ca
Hasta los muertos salen a bailar.
La luna llena acaba de llegar
El otro mundo empieza a despertar
Out in the grave yard we will sing a stance
Even the dead are rising up to dance.
Hasta los muertos salen a bailar.
Even the dead are rising up to dance.

—Tish Hinojosa

When Autumn Came


This is the way that autumn came to the trees:
it stripped them down to the skin,
left their ebony bodies naked.
It shook out their hearts, the yellow leaves,
scattered them over the ground.
Anyone could trample them out of shape
undisturbed by a single moan of protest.
The birds that herald dreams
were exiled from their song,
each voice torn out of its throat.
They dropped into the dust
even before the hunter strung his bow.
Oh, God of May have mercy.
Bless these withered bodies
with the passion of your resurrection;
make their dead veins flow with blood again.
Give some tree the gift of green again.
Let one bird sing.


—Faiz Ahmed Faiz, translated by Naomi Lazard