Editor’s note: The following column was originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Oct. 4, 1980.
Did you ever pass a store window where artists’ paints were displayed, where perhaps a group of brushes was laid upon a palette, and wonder if you could buy a brush that when filled with paint could say for you in colors what nature says with a hillside in fall?
There is something about burnished oaks, reddened maples, golden birches that speaks to me and urges me to fill a brush with color and touch it to paper. How I yearn to create a feeling of beauty that my eyes have let me see! Something wells within that wants to get out and my fingers reach for a way of expression.
Perhaps it is my soul that cries for release. I cannot say. There are too many things I do not understand about myself. I love to look at trees in fall. Their beauty should be enough just to drink with willing eyes, but I am pressed to do, almost driven to accomplish. It is as if I should, at the least, stand among my fellow humans and fairly shout, “Fall has come! Loveliness surrounds! Enjoy! Enjoy!”
My lips remain tight shut, even though breath pushes against my teeth from within. I cannot speak. How can I tell what wells inside? Words can’t substitute for paint, or can they?
I walk the path into the colored hills. I hear my step accentuated by fallen leaves. Crash, crash, I go. All wild things are warned of my coming and even though I mean them no harm they retreat behind their breastworks. I cannot silence my coming so that I might know who else is abroad this autumnal afternoon.
Looking upward through partly leafed trees, I see a blue, not unlike the blue of the Pacific. But I did not intend to write of oceans. Yet, the whole sky is a veritable ocean this day with only a few white-masted vessels floating on its surface. These vessels pass quietly overhead, drifting without a fresh breeze to hurry them.
Beside the path, I’m startled to come across a patch of blind gentian, its bright blue blooms closed shut. Unlike the open-fringed gentian, the blossoms of this plant remain closed. A strange flower of fall. But how appropriate to find it here, silent as a hermit, not speaking even to itself.
And then a patch of green partridge berry leaves, matted together, awaiting one who would follow me and pluck them up to later arrange them in a glass bowl for a touch of the wilderness within a home.
I move on, climbing higher. The brook is no more than a bed of stones, lying in wait for the fall freshet to once again fill it with clear water, water that will race downhill to our pond, the river, and the world beyond.
My walk takes me higher into the hills. As I look at the smooth-trunked beech and the rough-barked maples, I want to caress them. To have my fingers trace their skin with a loving touch. For these are the forest, one by one, that make the scene I see from my window. To be among them, to touch them, to look upward through their leafed branches, to feel the fallen leaf alight, brings us close. We become intimate. They do not know me. They cannot call me by name. I can only call them by the names that humans have given them — their family name in English, not Latin. It is their Latin names that truly distinguish them technically, but who really cares about technicalities when walking the woods for pleasure? I’d not appreciate a tree one whit more by being able to sort it out with such a degree of learning.
Whenever I am in the woodlands, I have a feeling of honor. It is as if I am within the walls of a magnificent cathedral — a guest, if you will, at the doorstep of heaven.
Stacey Cole, Nature Talks columnist for more than 50 years, passed away in 2014. If readers have a favorite column written by Stacey that they would like to see reprinted, please drop a note to Jen Lord at firstname.lastname@example.org.