More thoughts on a season worth savouring

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, October 5, 2005

Many of you, both near and far, have shared with me your own autumn memories and feelings since last week's column.

Monica Munro, of Cochrane, reminisced with me over coffee the other day. Monica is a passionate communicator and keynote speaker with a special interest in the power of words and memory. For her, autumn leaves partake of the evocative power of words, she says, for as she shuffles through clusters of leaves along Cochrane paths, they remind her of beautiful moments in her youth while growing up in Ontario.

Cochrane equestrian coach Milli Pratt had much the same feeling. She was raised in Quebec along the Vermont border. "I too remember the smell of smoke and wallowing in the leaves," she wrote. "I always enjoy your weekly writings, but this one really hit home."

Retiree Henry Schmidt, also of Cochrane, wrote of his high school and university days working on a farm in southeastern Alberta. "Harvest time was definitely the most enjoyable time of the year," he said. "The smell of grain being threshed and the sight of golden wheat pouring into the hopper, with all the accompanying whirrs and clangs of the combine, are memories I will always cherish."

Formerly of Cochrane and now teaching on the Big Horn Reserve west of Rocky Mountain House, Bill McLean wrote of the larch among the poplar: "You get these vivid streaks of yellow and orange going everywhere. My only regret is that fall is so short" – a regret many of us can identify with.

"I love the smell of apples on the ground now, cracked, open, rusted against the dark soil that is mixed with moist fallen leaves," wrote Pamela Showler, formerly of Morley and now studying at the University of Waterloo, Ontario.

Calgary coffee companion Ron Nowell grew up in Toronto. He remembers well the vivid colours of maple and oak. But, he chided, I hadn't mentioned "the distinctive taste of crumbled autumn leaves that always got into your mouth when playing in the 'forts' made of the leaves." Autumn is also the favourite time of year for Winifred Schroer, of Smokey Lake, Alta. "The colours and the perfume of ripening grain and fallen leaves are what touch me in those precious few days when our senses gorge upon Nature's extravagant gifts," she wrote. And then from a really far-away place came an e-mail from Angela Thomson, one-time resident of our beautiful Bow valley who was raised in New York state and now lives in the central-Asian republic of Kazakhstan.

"Thanks, Warren, for reminding me of those idyllic autumn days back East," she wrote. "They were exactly as you described it. We also made leaf houses, a kind of 'blueprint' drawn with rows of leaves on the ground where we laid out blankets in the 'bedrooms' and our snacks in the 'kitchen' and generally played house after school with the neighourhood kids."

But Angela also thinks of the Indian Summer days of Alberta. "We would go down by the Bow River and walk – and even camp – in a virtual golden cathedral. The entire bronze-carpeted ground was dappled with golden sunlight streaming in from that navy sky."

Things are a bit different in Kazakhstan, she wrote. "Here in Almaty, a heavily treed city in the shadow of the Tien Shan Mountains, the leaves are falling one species at a time, and some of the big poplars seem never to let go. The street sweepers with brooms, not rakes, seem intent on keeping everything swept up before much autumnal memory-making can happen in a child's mind."

The Almaty region is famous for its apples, as well as pears, peaches, apricots, plums, cherries and berries. There are also oaks, poplars, birches and maples – "even Manitoba maples," she noted incredulously.

Harvest time sees mile after mile of roadside stands stacked attractively with produce, not unlike our Okanagan, she wrote. "It is a wonderful social time for the small-time farmers who spend all day side-by-side manning their little part of the most amazing farmers' market I've ever seen."

Thanks, Angela and the rest of you, for your thoughts on autumn. As Calgary coffee companion and retired artist Helen Diemert put it: "'Tis the season to savour."

As a postscript to our e-mail coffee companions around the world, I'd like to add another reason to savour this season – in fact, to savour this very day that I am sending this column to you. From sundown Oct. 3 till sundown Oct. 5 is Rosh Hashana, the sacred festival that begins the Jewish New Year. Calgary coffee companion Sandy Corenblum, my advisor on Judaica, wrote:

"Your heartwarming message about the leaves falling brought this particular video website to mind:

"The voice in the background is singing Jewish high-holiday liturgy which talks about G-d's message of giving sympathy and helping others, rebuilding, and starting over. I wanted to share its beauty with you. It makes me cry."

Thank you, Sandy. The Rosh Hashana website had the same effect on me, and I encourage the rest of you to pause and take it in, too. So, to all my Jewish coffee companions I say: Happy New Year, and shalom!

© 2005 Warren Harbeck

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