Lighting the autumn flame

Very soon the autumn equinox comes. Day and night are of equal length as the Earth tilts away from the sun in the Northern hemisphere. The sun itself rides lower in the sky. Dawns are a little chilly. Sunset comes earlier.

A sure sign of autumn here, and everywhere, is the fire of sumac. This wild plant grows everywhere on roadsides and at the edges of fields, native to almost every area of the world. The name comes almost unchanged from the Arabic down through Old French. The wild species goes unnoticed untl its leaves explode into a deep, vibrant red color as summer wanes.

Crimson is its main color but it also displays a brilliant yellow, a rich orange or an exquisite purple.

Hal Borland, a nature writer who wrote a weekly column in the New York Times for years, comments: "One wonders why the legend-makers never gave it credit for lighting the autumn flame in the forest, setting off the whole blaze of color. Legendary or not, there it stands now, full of cool autumn fire, ready to set the whole woodland aflame."

Autumn is the completion of spring and summer. The time of ripeness slowly and quietly explodes into brilliant colors. Autumn's hues seem to be illuminated by a light that comes from within. There come September and October days when the sky is clear and clean, the air crisp, the wind not yet full of leaves.

Borland again: "In a properly ordered world we should all be able to go out into the hills on such days and know that life is fundamentally good. Good enough, at least, that we should take time to see and feel and sense the strength and elemental hospitality of the natural world around us. This is humankind's environment, and ours should be a way of life that cherishes it. We find meaning in it when we look, when we stand in the open and see bold horizons of faith, stubborn hills of strength, horizon-wide spans of enduring purposes."

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