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Before And After One Fall

nice to have it back

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, September 19, 2007.

Autumn used to be my preferred time of year, and that only partly because I lived in New England where we knew – thank you very much all four of you native Coloradoans – what a real Fall is like, and what autumn color is. Don’t get me started about the bloody monochromatic aspen.

Autumn, back then, also included the fishing season for surf casters, as we somewhat vainly considered ourselves. Striped bass and bluefish ran into Buzzards Bay starting in late August, and we would be up at 3 and on Dumpling Rock in Nonquitt at 4 to cast into the pitch black with our MirrorLures as bait, and await the tug of the line that, no matter how prosaic it was in actuality, thrilled me to death. I’ve fly fished Rocky Mountain rivers and done deep water trolling off Florida and in the Caribbean, and I have to say that it is surf casting in New England that defines for me what real fishing is. Primarily, because there was nothing like eating a fish for breakfast not two hours out of the cold water. With eggs and homemade pie. Man.

My family – by which is meant our mother - baked, which is not surprising with four sons and a mother who went to Fanny Farmer’s Boston Cooking School in her youth. We ate like kings and pigs both, and two or three homemade pies out of the oven had a shelf life of, well, no shelf life. They never made it to temporary storage. Gone, with the fish and eggs. Inhaled, vanished, not even close.

I loved the Fall, moved to Colorado in the Fall, met my future wife in the Fall, loved to slaughter all standing dead trees and branches into firewood in prep for the winter in the Fall. Loved everything about it.

In 1994, I was convicted of financial crimes in the Fall, and while I had about a month between conviction and sentencing, I spent it up at the Custer Battlefield and trying to mend my fiascos but could not, and faced a future that screamed a truncated if not terminated life. I’d be near seventy when I got out, as people familiar with such things and the judge and DA said. I gave away what little I had, and spent what time I could with friends who varied between hysteria and condescension, or so it seemed. I spent my worst hour up Left Hand Canyon at a friend’s home while she dealt with some issues and I waited outside in her car listening to the radio. The air smelled great, with smoke from a distant fireplace, and the brilliant aspen glowing light above the deepening dark below. Just beautiful and peaceful and I could feel the dirt being shoveled on my corpse.

The sun sets early on the east side of the divide up Left Hand, and while it was only mid afternoon, NPR was on and a piece was done about E.B. White, who wrote Charlotte’s Web, and the narrator focused upon how the upstate New York fair that provided the climax and setting for the spider’s death scene was real, and dwelt lovingly on the food and activities that were part and parcel and returned to White’s book. They had an actor read the entire last chapter.

Whoever he was, he was really good. Like all great children’s books, Charlotte’s Web really is just a great book that children enjoy no more than the adults. And while I don’t want to imply that what I went through masochistically listening to a favorite story as a melodramatic dirge to my life was remotely comparable to what many others have faced, it was surely salt on the open wound and it just killed me. “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” I’d driven away most all friends I’d not been banned from contacting. Some are terrific writers.

By the time the reading ended, and the ominous music for NPR’s segue into news came on, I was about as depressed as I’ve ever been. Even an otherwise pleasant childhood memory had come back to mock and cut amid the visualizations of a life in the slammer. I hated Fall, when things seemed to be winding down in exact contiguousness to my life.

Of course, things did change, and after six months in jail, two years in a halfway house, and six years on probation, I was out. And all memories do fade, and I enjoy autumn again. Still, every year about this time I get rather anxious for reasons not immediately apparent to me when I recall the surf and all things salt water and those great breakfasts and family that still warm in memory. I can feel the chain saw in hand, and relish the scent of pine chips and smoke and cooking on the evening wind.