In 1991, the singer Natalie Cole created the album Unforgettable: With Love. You have probably heard of it, since eventually it sold over five million copies. The title track featured her singing a duet via electronic elaboration with her father, Nat King Cole, who died in 1965.
In a similar spirit of collaboration, I wrote today’s blog with my dad, Harvey McGee. It’s based on Dad’s account of autumn in the California foothill town of Sonora, where he was editor and publisher of the Union Democrat from 1959 until his death in 1998. His part appeared October 2, 1979, as his Sierra Lookout column. My part – an account of early autumn 2014 in Seattle – is in italics.
THE SWEET, mossy smell of summer no longer drifts up from the creek in the late afternoon.
Twice now, the ravines have been flooded briefly with the sharp scents turned loose by moisture on brown grass. But it was only light rain, and the fields still crunch underfoot.
We’ll have to wait longer for the deep, heavy aroma that rises when the year’s buildup of twigs, pods, eaves and seeds is brewed by a soaking downpour.
Meanwhile, the light scents will do, especially when mixed with crisp mornings, soft yellow afternoons and blazing sunsets.
THE SWEET, piney smell of sunsoaked Douglas fir no longer flavors my late afternoon walks.
Twice now, rain has pounded our metal roof with downpours worthy of Hawaiian monsoons, releasing the heavy scent that rises when the summer’s buildup of twigs, pods, dry grasses and seeds is brewed by a drenching shower.
(I love that there’s a word for this aroma: “petrichor,” the scent of rain on dry earth, a word constructed from the Greek, petros, meaning ‘stone,’ and ichor, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology. Even in Seattle, a rain elicits this lovely fragrance at summer’s end.)
The sun slants low at the end of day, flooding the garden with golden light.
(I just learned today that the Japanese have a word for sunlight shining through leaves of a tree: komorebi. This time of year the angle of light in the Northwest is prime for komorebi.)
THE MOSQUITO that whined in the bedroom all summer as soon as the lights went out has now gone. He’s been replaced by a buzzing, hopping creature that disappears when the lights go on.
And the weekend traffic lined up at the stoplight has changed again. Summer’s stream of family-loaded station wagons has trickled away, and now the lineup is dominated by pickup-campers, their cabs filled mostly with men and rifle racks.
THE DISTANT whine of power washers and weed-whackers yields to the hum of leaf blowers.
Streets fill with yellow school buses again. We hope the traffic snarls caused by summer road repairs will soon be over.
THE SWIMSUITS draped on the back porch railing have been dry for weeks, and I can drop onto the nearby lounge chair without first removing a soggy mound of towels.
The ivy bed is reviving, now that the dog has stopped sleeping away his afternoons there. All that lush poison oak has retreated down its long stems in preparation to burst forth with even greater viciousness next spring.
THE GARDEN has its last hurrah. We harvest beans and tomatoes and plant kale, lettuce, spinach and garlic for winter crops while the dog snoozes under the camellia.
THE GLOW of football field lights floods the early darkness. Listen and you’ll hear that whistles and chanting voices have now joined the background din of barking dogs, spinning tires and straining log trucks.
All that remains of the grandchildren’s vacation visits is an occasional plastic block, left for painful discovery by a barefoot grandparent.
And in the mailbox there’s a Christmas catalog.
THE GLOW of football field lights floods the early darkness. Listen and you’ll hear that whistles and chanting voices have now joined the background din of barking dogs, spinning tires and planes flying overhead.
The grandnephews are back in school. All that remains of our Camp Runamok campfire is the charred spot on the driveway gravel.
And in the mailbox there’s a Christmas catalog.
(I think I’ll give Natalie and Nat King Cole the last word: It’s Unforgettable.)
This is evocative and emotional. I now live in PHX and do not see, feel, smell the autumn you have given me today. Thank you. How wonderful your father and you can still share this together.
I love reading your blog and this one is special. How lovely and lucky to have had a dad who was also a writer. You are all multi-talented! xJudy
Wonderful tribute to your dad.
One of my favorite Harvey columns – love the line about the mosquito.
This is sooooooooooo beautiful. Thank you for sharing! So beautiful.
Lovely: thank you!
I really enjoyed this. Laura.
This is such a wonderful dialogue. I love how your incorporated his into yours. A fitting tribute to fall, and a beautiful collaboration with your dad. Thanks!
Laura, this is very sweet and touching. A duet with your father — how clever of you! You are both wizards with words. Speaking of words, thank you for “petrichor” and “komorebi”.
Beautiful and evocative. Living in the country, albeit on the other side of the continent, I deeply appreciate learning about Komorebi. What a gorgeous word for what is happening in my woods today.
You are fortunate to have a father to create with across time. A lovely tribute.
Thank you for all these nice comments — and thanks especially to Dad. His column absolutely takes me back to an autumn day in Sonora.
What a beautiful duet! Thanks, Laura. We are in Vermont; yesterday we harvested the garden, today we also listen to rain on the roof. Happy fall!
That must be where you received your gift for words, from your dad. Great tribute to both of you! Thanks for sharing.
“petrichor,” the scent of rain on dry earth. Loved this! What a nice idea to do a “duet” with your father’s post. A nice tribute indeed.
Oh and I have been thinking of Dad all week! Why? Was this his favorite season? And missing him. And then I read this but a few miles from where he wrote it. Except it isn’t autumn there yet. But almost. I read it after listening to Dad’s great-granddaughter read an essay she liked from her creative non-fiction class. She sat there on the terrace in the oaks in her thrift store sundress with daisies on it and small round black hat. It was so sweet, all this past and present coming together, so many people that I love and their words and this place–a kind of petrichor? Anyway, thank you so much for this.
Wonderful post, Momma and Harve.
A wonderful read in a quick break in my day…thanks for sharing Laura!
I love your description of Ellie, Sue. Here comes another generation of writers in our family! Wouldn’t Dad have loved that?