I feel fortunate to experience the beauty and sensations of four distinct times of year. As fond as I am of sunshine and warm breezes, I also need the balance of brisk temperatures, darkened skies, and blustery winds.
However, I fear that I have exhausted my list of appropriate seasonal phrases, that I may not adequately describe the nuances of a fragile spring blossom or a glowing autumnal leaf.
As fall overtakes the landscape, then, I turn to my favorite American poet, Robert Frost, to celebrate the russets and golds I am currently anticipating as well as the icy whites, the gentle pastels, and the riotous colors of nature in its cycle of seasons.
Just the title, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” evokes winter for me; December surrounds me when the “woods are lovely, dark and deep” on the “darkest evening of the year.”
Admittedly, the oft-quoted “I have promises to keep/and miles to go before I sleep” became something of a mantra during my busy teaching years. Aloud or silently expressed, those words eloquently reminded me of all I had yet to accomplish.
But it is the little horse that hints at a long-ago side of winter, one my father once described. On an over-the-river-and-through-the-woods kind of childhood trip, he recounted traveling by horse-drawn wagon, on a Sunday from Woodstock to Mechanicsburg. Bricks heated by the stove added a measure of warmth for little feet.
When Frost’s horse “gives his harness bells a shake,” I recall my father’s reminiscence. And “the sweep of easy wind and downy flake” places me in a winter moment to watch the “woods fill up with snow.”
With one flip of the calendar page, we begin making self-improvement lists for the new year but find it difficult to be resolute about resolutions in the midst of frigidly-unchanged surroundings. By contrast, “Mending Wall” presents the time of year when we repair the neglect of winter as the newness of spring opens before us.
It was during “spring-mending time” that Frost and his neighbor “walk the line/and set the wall.” The poet wrote not a word of budding trees or blooming flowers or an end to migration and hibernation. However, references to apple trees and cows hinted at lively days to come, when folks rejoined one another outside after winter’s confinement.
So, it is during this return to natural openness that we find ourselves planning for the coming months: intentions for crops, gardens, flower beds – and walls.
Frost contemplates seemingly-contradictory aspects of such barriers. The concepts, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” and “good fences make good neighbors,” however, are not necessarily mutually-exclusive. Before the backdrop of gentle, new days, we explore ways to co-exist, energized by the sense of possibility so prevalent in spring.
“Birches” unfailingly reminds me of the spirit of summer. I vaguely remember a fascinating row of the slender trees with “black branches up a snow-white trunk” near Route 29’s curve into and out of Crayon.
Frost yearned to return to his boyhood summer days when he, a self-described “swinger of birches,” “subdued his father’s trees/by riding them down over and over again.” He “learned all there was/to learn about not launching out too soon” and then “flung outward, feet first, with a swish.”
Is that not the essence of summer? Days stretch deliciously before us, every nook and cranny and wide open space a promising playground, as we dream of endless sunshine and nighttime’s starry skies.
For myself, I have never even touched the bark of a birch tree. And yet, “when I’m weary of considerations,” and “I’d like to get away from earth awhile,” my mind – free of boundary or limit – rides a virtual birch tree to the ground. “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”
I particularly look forward to autumn, that time of the year tucked between the freedom of boundless summer days and a long stretch of winter restraint. Fall is a time for reflection and introspection.
When I read in “The Road Not Taken” about “two roads” that “diverged in a yellow wood,” I find myself likewise surrounded by a scarlet and bronze woodland. With fall’s finery above my head and under my step, I do not spring lithely or trudge slowly.
No, my deliberate pace through the foliage turns contemplative when I reach the spot Frost described, the proverbial fork in the road, where one path “bent in the undergrowth” and the other seemed “grassy and wanted wear.”
The poet found both roads “that morning equally lay/in leaves no step had trodden black” and realized his decision to take the “one less traveled by” had “made all the difference.” Such is the awareness of self, so possible during the harvest days of autumn.
There is, however, another line in Frost’s poem, a phrase I have observed and quoted and lived: “how way leads on to way.” My life experience teaches me that I will never return to that first spot to take the other path. One road leads to the next divergence, just as one decision leads to the next decision and on to the next.
Firm Champaign County roots and globe-trekking wings have allowed me to delight in the sequence of life and nature, as displayed in seasonal beauty and described by my own personal poet laureate, Robert Frost.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.