Haikus of Autumn

I had thought to leave my front porch on the farm, and to walk to the top of Monadnock on a full moon night, to watch the sunrise. just to watch the sunrise. And every time I drove to the Hannaford's for my seltzer water and juice, and saw the mountain catching cloud or sun, I wondered when I'd do it. But of course I couldn't, a farm needs farmed. But the first frost came mid-September, and it's not summer anymore.

So I left at midnight. But to rain. And for six hours I walked through it. No moonlight. no sunrise. just the storm and the whole world turned into a river. And the rivers and the creeks, themselves, raucous in that downpour. I had not even known them, coursing through these towns, 'til I walked by or over their white waters. All that time with us hidden like our blood.

The lights in the windows of Marlborough. past two in the morning. orange through the rain. And I dreamt of Basho, haikus of autumn, of someone reading, and of warmth, mostly warmth. of a place we might call home. What else are we to dream of, walking in a storm past windows warm and orange? Two in the morning with the rain outside, a good book, and Sunday for sleeping in.

But I was out, and soon well beyond those lights of home. The wide road turned narrow, the narrow road turned dirt, the dirt road turned trail, and looked up. There's that line of Walcott's I'll never forget: for "any road that lost its mind in the mountains." I lost the trail above treeline. and so I just climbed: pools above the laces. creeks in the crevices. the whole earth definitely to windward.

I've never known what to do with a view from the top of a mountain, as though the point of going up had never been to look down; but my body has always known how to take that wind and rock. This time there was no down to see, no view, just the grayness of swirling cloud and storm. It was on land, but the right word would be gale. It was a gale up there.

I knew if I turned my back, I would be lost to the trailless way I came. And so I didn't. It must have appeared a confrontation of sorts, the mountain and I, though it wasn't: at the small summit, someone standing there awhile, rigid in that gale, not moving; then, all at once, turning directly around and disappearing down the rock face.

Who is to say what I first left for, but by the time the rain stopped, I had found it. Though, again, who is to say what it was that I found?

But of the rain, but of the storm; but of water on dark rock. It is not just the world that it washes.

In all the hostels I have stayed, the long distance walkers: sinew and pain, sun-burnt beards and a hobble; eating their pizza and Dr. Pepper at night; then, in the morning with their orange juice, putting on their boots and packs, and moving on.

The weekend before, on the coast, I had landed awkwardly from a rock, bruised my heel. All week I couldn't walk, and then it was midnight, time to go, and so I did. A tendon watched over the bone, but by 30 miles it got tired, and I was apologizing to it for the absurdity of it all, for the miles yet to go, for the hobbling I would make in the middle of the night as I went for water. But then I did, go for water, those hours later, and what strength in that memory it woke while I was still half sleeping. The hostels I have stayed at, the hikers I have met; frailty and strength, what it means to be human; their hobble, and the way I felt it, and them, just to watch.

On my table, now, as I write these few days later, is a pumpkin:  small, light in its color, with a dark mold mottled over it; its handle, dried and curved, like an old withered tree that has lost all its leaves. It caught my breath, or the deeper belly of me that breathes. The day before the walk, in the middle of spreading the winter squash out to store, I saw it, and it seemed as old as the earth it came out of. And I wondered, again, how it is that a pumpkin is for me the whole felt sense of autumn. I wondered about witnessing.

The white of the rivers. the light of home. the hikers we have known. the farm that we come back to, decked out in the colors of fall. even our food as we eat it. If the tone of our being is right, that's what we see from the top of the mountain. the top of the mountain.