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The Dartmouth
June 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Not Fade Away

The nights grow colder on the hilltop in Etna. The leaves departed from here many days ago. The nascent, tightly bound buds of spring emerged behind them, patiently waiting their departure, perhaps even hastening their fall to the forest floor.

Frost stills the grass each morning now. The tiled floor grows harder as it cools in autumn's chill, my naked toes recoil from its gelid plane. The trees have sent their green to the ground, storing it up for the spring. The brisk and waning days send their signals to us as well. Store up goods for your need against the coming freeze and storm. Gird your mind against the coming dark and harsh days. Store up your good spirits to warm you, even in the weak winter sun.

Unstack the dust covered windows, clean them so winter's gleam streams in, its cold blocked by the thin, glistening pane. Rattling ladder propped against steep and heavy eave, this window reluctant to enter its place until forced by hammer to wood into acquiescence. Forty-eight windows to cover 48 eyes and mouths not yet ready to let go the free, easy passage of light, wind, moths or wasp. Protesting, unwieldly, shaking free of cold hands one heavy frame falls, the 45th eye wins its battle. For now.

The wood is in, stacked close by grasping hands, dry and serious. Well armed against the sinking cold of November, the dull black stove awaits the fire. Only a slight dust of ash cloaks its iron ribs. Soon heavy cinder and burning coals will fall to its empty metal belly, waiting for gloved hands to draw them out, rush into the cold and cast them, winking red, onto their cold, dead brothers.

Light summer fare leaves us growling for more. Hearty stew, corn chowder, new bread thickly spread with butter. Red wine, robust, big against the chill. Restaurant chalk finds new shapes for the board, autumn gourds forced tight against beef and cream sauces. Our hands seek the cup, tea and coffee steam; we embrace the heat and sadden when it fades.

Well-suited students traverse the Green clasping new leather portfolios, sanguine ties splashed against brilliant white starched shirts. Red leaves linger, hanging tight to the maple on the corner. Soon they'll fade to match worn sandstone: yet still they remain, crimson and full through these blue sky days, greeting the gray heads of the bus riders come to peer through tinted windows at our place in the world.

A longing for the scene outside the classroom window slips away with the cold rain dropping from the louring, leaden sky. Latin becomes the warm and comfortable friend it was claimed to be. Morning sun wavering through old glass gulls us; we scramble into jackets against the cold lying hard against the white brick, waiting for us to take its measure. Waiting. Patient. Almost alive.

Memories gather in the center of the Green, palpable to those who know something of memory. Smoke, flames and heat burn inside them, the churn and moan of years echo against an invisible tower. New faces, bright with fire, will turn and run, turn, run again, clearing a new space in tradition. These incandescent memories will join with the others and wait the next year, the next season, finding their place in the streaming past.

Gloves, hats, long-lost clusters of down emerge from hiding, we prepare the armor ourselves now, no one stoops to force our feet into heavy boots. Clothing distilled from primordial ooze warm us and sheds the snow and rain. Nylon whispers down hallways and under the barely leaved trees, the close, animal smell of wool is only found in pasture and barn. Sleek legs and bony knees disappear under flannel and sturdy cotton. Summer warmed skin hides itself, fading to winter in secret, unnoticed and unremarked.

The absent bell in the carillon's song marks the snippet taken from our lives each day. Bit by bit we take our leave of these redbrick and white-windowed halls. Musty books shrink under our dwindling gaze. Winter term's short weeks will come full of ice, burning cheeks and sodden toes. Short days will lengthen, each one a minute, two minutes, five minutes longer. They lead the way into the burgeoning covenant that has filled our lives since we arrived in this place. We know the promise. We know those tightly bound leaves unfurl, cast off the stolid cover of winter and spread their faces to the sun. We know this promise to be ours.