A beautiful day. Temperature in the low 70's, and the mellow sunlight of late autumn ripening on the trees. Fall has finally arrived in Philadelphia, like a long awaited relative. The trees blush in the warmth of his embrace; everywhere I look the branches flame out in yellow or amber or fiery red. A thick carpet of golden leaves gilds the sidewalks of the UPenn campus. Squirrels dart about in the lush undergrowth, plump as rabbits, quick as whips. It is a lazy Sunday afternoon.
I sit on a park bench, sipping my Cappucino, reading Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. His prose as crisp as fallen leaves. A great expanse of emerald grass stretches out in front of me, at the edge of which the tree I'm sitting under hesitates, like a child too shy to play. It is cool here at first, there is a thin breeze, but soon the sunlight finds me and I can feel the heat of its thick fingers pressing into my skin. I feel an incredible sense of peace. On the lawn in front of me the people gather slowly, in twos and threes. Laughing families with their frisbees and dogs and mini-footballs. Couples lying on the grass, their bodies curling together like obedient punctuation marks, safe in the mutual speechlessness of their love. The occasional jogger stopping for a rest. A distant bell peals the hour. Someone plays the Beatles on an organ.
There is a burnished light to the scene, as if the sunlight were a ray of delicate bronze. There is a sense of holiday, of occasion, as though someone had polished the very air. Everywhere I look the colours shine out at me, almost too vivid to be real. The day seems suspended, timeless. Here it is, at last, the beauty that Frost spoke of, "the beauty of November days / Before the coming of the snow".
I fold my jacket into a pillow, stretch out on the park bench, on my back, reading. The hard wooden planks of the bench cut into my back, but the sky, glimpsed through the orange branches, is a glorious azure, and that more than makes up for my discomfort. As I read, stray leaves fall across my forehead, my chest. I am reminded of a line from Spender, a line about those "who hoarded from the Spring branches / the desires falling across their bodies like blossoms". It is the wrong season now, but the sense of awe is still the same.
By three thirty the light is beginning to fade. The sunlight yawns, as if preparing for bed. There is the faintest hint of cold in the air - not a chill so much as a premonition. I finish my book, moved beyond words by the beauty, the depth, the compassion of it. As I look up into the gathering dusk it seems that the day too has read the book with me, that the day understands. I sense, in its slow, dying glory an empathy for all things betrayed, for all grandeur lost. As I get up and begin to walk away, a great gust of wind shakes the trees all around me, and I walk, Danae-like, through a shower of gold, the leaf fall gentle as a hand, touching me lightly, bidding me adieu.
It has been a warm and heartbreaking day, a diffused day, a day of grief, lovely and becalmed. A day like a still white sail, wating for the wind to find it. A day of perfect autumn.