Autumn always sends me into a kind of wistful, contemplative delirium. The intense yellows, reds, and gold of the leaves, which in turn bring out the crisp blueness of the sky, distract me from my tasks and force me to pause and give an homage of mindful attention to the moment, all too aware that this is all as fleeting as it is beautiful. A breeze stirs the branches of a tree, the vibrant foliage flutters down in a swirl of glory–and the first contours of the bare branches begin to emerge, hinting at the filigreed, crystalline beauty of the winter to come.
It has been one of those days–gorgeous, adorned with sunlight and exquisite blue skies, glided in precious-metal hues. My husband and I are visiting Riverdale Farm in Toronto. It’s a park on the east side of downtown. It was once a farm, and the barn, as well as a number of the old buildings, have been preserved. There is a lovely heritage house near the entrance, which sells organic milk and cheese.
In the fall, it is a dreamy, idyllic spot. The mules and horses sport their thicker, winter coats as they chew pensively on hay, while the pigs root through the mud in their stalls, and the chickens coo quietly as they roost in their coops.
Across the street is the Toronto Necropolis–one of the old graveyards of the city. We wander through slowly, reading the inscriptions. One woman’s headstone indicates that she died in 1849 at the age of 61. She was born in Scotland, in 1788. She would have lived through the French Revolution, Jane Austen, Beethoven, and the heyday of the Romantic Poets. But those would have been the backdrop–distant events going on in the same world that she happened to inhabit, which may or may not have touched her life in any meaningful way. Still, somehow, her life’s journey brought her here, to a Toronto that I can barely imagine, and ended with her burial in a graveyard poised at the edge of the Don Valley, on the distant outskirts of the then-city. Her daughter shares her headstone–she died in her twenties, a few short years later.
Many of the graves tell stories of youthful deaths–family cenotaphs that bear narratives of multiple losses; sons and daughters who do not survive their teens, twenties, thirties. Reading these bare facts, even about the lives of strangers, makes me pause and think about who they might have been and the lives they might have lived; the things they feared, and the people they loved.
A gentle breeze stirs the exquisitely backlit leaves and I’m pulled back into the magic of right now, this moment, with a slow exhalation. On a day such as this, the glory of the autumn colours makes mortality feel all the sweeter and more precious.