Editorial: Accents of autumn

Autumn’s coming on: though stating the obvious, still worthy of further comment. The signs are at first subtle but nonetheless unmistakable: from heat-seeking stink bugs to insect-eating martins and swallows now heading south, from spiking ragweed spore counts to pastel-shaded pastures and temperature-shaving nights.

Rappahannock County’s seasonal changes are just about as pronounced as any on the planet: annually the highest and lowest temperatures can swing 100 degrees. Located roughly halfway between the North Pole and the equator, Rappahannock is especially sensitive to the changing angle of sunlight, which is the fundamental cause for changes in the seasons.

So it is that soon Rappahannock’s turning leaves will be practically shouting: “Hey, stop, take a look at us!”

Autumn is a time when we’re compelled to sit up and take notice of some of the things we normally take for granted, namely our place in the natural world. Unlike money, autumn is neither fungible nor quantifiable. How many units of autumnal beauty will a dividend or paycheck buy?

Instead, all we have are words in our futile attempts to capture fleeting, fragile fall. “The long sobs of autumn violins,” wrote Paul Verlaine, “wound my heart with a monotonous languor.” John Keats spoke of the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness . . . soft-dying day.”

Even those of us made speechless by beauty share in this poetic sensibility, for there’s something about autumn that strikes a deeply introspective, melancholic chord.

This fall feels especially melancholic, however, given the politic that divides us. Forty years of bipartisan consensus on the necessity for government regulation to protect the environment seem shattered. Without clean air and clean water, can future generations experience an autumn like the one just now?

Walter Nicklin