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Greenville & Hockessin Life

Last walk of autumn, toward winter

Nov 29, 2015 11:36AM ● By J. Chambless

Story and photographs by Richard L. Gaw

Although I have no solid record of it anywhere, I believe I have begun reading T.S. Eliot's “The Waste Land” more than two dozen times. I have never finished it.

While it may not be a Herculean effort to do so – I've picked up and put down “Ulysses” more times than I can count, which truly deserves a pat on the back – I look at these failed attempts to complete the poem with all of the aplomb of the old college try. As readers, we are led to the literary joyrides that seem to spring from the writer's imagination, much the way frightened children are led by the hand to the circle-whirl of the playground Calliope. And yet, each time Eliot opens the door to his massive poem, with “The Burial of the Dead,” I walk out after the first stanza, for the simple reason that I am in love with the month of April.

“April is the cruellest month/lilacs out of the dead land/mixing memory and desire/stirring dull roots with spring rain...” Eliot writes. While a poignant photograph of seasonal rebirth, Eliot's description portrays the arrival of spring as if it were one of embarrassed apology, like it was entering through the back door. So with apologies to Thomas Stearns Eliot, no single month should have to carry the weight of the writer's pen, in being compared with the topsy-turvy spin of a human life. Like April, there is one other month in our calendar year that no less a hand than William Butler Yeats – or Dylan Thomas and Robert Frost – have burdened with the responsibility of ushering us from one season of our lives to the next, the go-to pause on the calendar that reflects the passage of time, the shortening of the days, the reflective whisper of life in its last great hour before the winter of our life comes.

It is the month of October.

Lighten up, fellas.

On the last Sunday in October, my wife and I visited the Mt. Cuba Center on a crisp morning. At stations throughout the pathways that circled around the grounds, docents gave us brief tutorials on the many educational programs the Center has – or will be – involved in. Tour guides gave descriptive lessons to visitors who padded softly along rust-colored pathways.

The entirety of the Center seemed like it had been dipped in the colors of heat.

We walked from the Trillium Garden to the Dogwood Path and through the meadow, to where we then followed the sound of running water, and found the stream and the ponds that connected to them. I have always arrived at seasons and end with them, carrying with me – in a little satchel – an optimistic resonance of the hope they are intended to impart.

There are, really, no rough edges to our seasons, no rigid dividing lines, except invented ones. As I walked with my wife through the Mt. Cuba Center, I saw the overhead burnish of leaves, dotted with the spraying sun. here will be Thanksgiving tables soon for us to sit around, I thought, and then holidays that rest like pillows at the end and the beginning of each year. There will be fireplaces to light and thick books to open that have rested on nightstands since the summer. One season arrives so that it may eventually usher in the season that follows it, in a continuance of movement, as the leaves fall into the pond and become yellow and red reflections, as autumn becomes we wait for April.

I may never finish “The Waste Land.”

To learn more about the Mt. Cuba Center, visit

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail [email protected].

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