In anticipation of its arrival, we spent the waning light picking the last fruits of the garden and lugging in the plants.
We could feel it coming in the crispness of the air and hear its advent in the stirring of the furnace.
Darkness dropped the mercury and coated the world. By dawn, alabaster windshields whispered threats of mornings to come with their idling engines and scratching scrapers.
Leaving for work, I saw gray lawns and fields beginning to glitter their greeting to the rising sun. The leaves on the trees, some already reddish or golden, drooped under the weight of their rime, no doubt considering their limited time.
Chimneys made their lofty white offerings. There was a cold quiet, as if the birds had slept in and the hoar had absorbed all other sound.
I had to pull over for a moment. The scene attracted, but its message evoked. First frost had more than its usual effect on me.
More than the start of school or the autumnal equinox, first frost altered everything. It laid summer to rest and warned that the harshness of winter was well on its way.
First frost alerted me, not just to the change of the season, but the passage of time, the inevitable turn of the wheel, leaving behind good times and lost opportunities.
It reminded me not only of the shorter, slower, colder days to come, but their invitation to be alone, to take stock, to replenish the soul.
Years ago, we had Ember Days, days of fast and abstinence. They had their origin in Mediterranean agriculture — first flowers in the spring and then the harvests of wheat, grapes and olives. They recognized a reliance on nature and God.
They were days of penitential gratitude. They called to mind our place in the order of things, reconciling us with the past and urging a firm purpose of amendment for the future.
Alas, tied to the land, they had little meaning in an industrial world.
The name came from the Anglo-Saxon ymber, “running in a cycle.”
Without them, we risk running in a circle.
Fall is just a date on a calendar, and we rush from witches to Wise Men, from pumpkins to poinsettia, in the blink of an eye.
Maybe we should make first frost a holy day, at least a day of holy minutes.
We can pull off, take in the beauty, ponder its message, and at least say thanks.