In Rocky Mountain National Park two weekends ago, on the Bierstadt Lake trail (right), whole hillsides were lit up scarlet, lemon, orange and lime green, framed to the west by the gray somber high mountains, still untouched by snow. Scattered among the aspen trees were the maroon leaves of the wild rose bushes punctured by the small crimson berries. In the valley bottoms, the willow bushes were shades of bronze and red. Every stand of aspen had its own cadre of worshippers, tourists on their knees shooting the multi-colored aspens from every angle.
I once read that on the equinoxes you could perfectly balance an egg on a sidewalk. It’s just those two times every year when the year is perfectly balanced—between winter and spring and between summer and fall, between cold and hot. The temperature now is in the 70s, the sky is that deep, aching blue that only comes in fall, when there is hardly a trace of moisture in the air. I can sit outside and the sun feels warm instead of hot. A light breeze ruffles the aspens, and the sound stirs my heart.
Above my cabin, the dirt road is flanked with aspen trees, not much taller than me, so I walk through an arch of golden light (below). I feel bathed in the honeyed light, something poured down from the heavens, illuminating every moment and everyone who passes through.
Yellow is the color of warmth, and the light from these golden aspen warms and softens us before we put on our armor for winter. The time is short, a few weeks to open our hearts, and I’m frantic to take full advantage. Through centuries, spiritualists have referred to the golden light—of God, of the next realm, of grace and love—something to reach for, to attain. For a short amount of time, that golden light comes down to earth, manifests in the golden leaves of the aspens.
One night, sitting on the front deck, after a good hike with friends followed by a satisfying meal, I had a half hour before the sun slipped behind Mount Meeker. The light was charmed, the air full of whispers and soft movements. Autumn has a feel of completeness, nature’s work is done, and now it’s time to rest. There comes a hush, a breathing in, holding the breath as long as possible before the descent into winter.
It’s right before the sun sets, a feeling of satisfaction before the day slides into dusk and then into darkness. You can only take a deep breath and let yourself feel it, not try to hold onto it. Then breathe out, let it go.