Autumn at its most stark. My mountain has been visited by a frigid cloud and I can't see farther than a tree or two past my property line. The black oaks' leaves are yellow and they alone find something to glimmer about in the subdued morning light. Our October snow was untimely and warm days followed and melted it, but now there's no question that winter is nigh.
Thanksgiving is a harvest holiday and those are always the best. Traditionally, grain bins and smokehouses are full, the weather is not yet forbidding, and memories of summer are still fresh; indeed my tan hasn't fully faded. After Thanksgiving come the Winter Solstice holidays: Christmas, New Years, Hanukah, and Kwanza, and they'll be observed around fireplaces and with candles and colored lights. But today, it is the autumn leaves that blaze.
It is my custom at this time of year to reflect with gratitude upon my life, my family, my friends, and upon the state of the world. In this space, I've written before that I find hope in the fact that our dire economic straits are distributional and not born of famine, disease, pestilence, or want. We have food, energy, products, markets, and capital. We just need to learn to manage them better.
In the Bible, the first commandment given by God after finishing His creation is: "Be fruitful and multiply, replenish the earth, and subdue it." Thanksgiving should make us ponder how well or ill we are carrying out our charge.
Autumn Hills & My Studio by Robert Vonnoh (1858-1933). I don't know much about the artist other than that he was an avid student of French Impressionism, a beloved teacher in the US, and said to be of a gentle and melancholy disposition--a man who liked nothing more than to set up his easel in the open air. In short, a man of autumnal temperament. Click on the picture for a closer look.
One year from now we will be voting for President. I'm reluctant to write another word.
There may have been a time that I looked forward to national races, but I can't recall when. We have a full year of punditry and predictions to look forward to, together with equivocations, clarifications, and gaffes--and all done in deadly earnest.
We'll no doubt witness a blizzard of attacks and allegations, and quite possibly an October surprise or two. It will fall to the vice-presidential candidates to cast the biggest and sharpest stones. The heads of the tickets will try to defend themselves, and defame their opponents, while still looking presidential. Absent a quick wit, it won't be a pretty sight.
And when all is said and done, very little of it will matter. Regardless of the winner, Washington will return to its horse trading over half measures.
In the past month, we've seen two Republican frontrunners rise and fall due to their vanity and ineptitude. Rick Perry wasn't prepared to debate the issues or defend his record, and Herman Cain wasn't up to scrutiny of either his policies or his character. Neither has exhibited any grasp of how complicated the world is or how far reaching a chief executive's curiosity ought to be. Perry announced a hastily conceived flat tax proposal that even conservative economists denounced as nonsense. Cain, losing his sense of humor and bonhomie, has resorted to barking at reporters, inventing strange facts about China, deriding the importance of foreign policy, and blaming Perry for spilling the beans about his harassment of female former employees.
Obama got in trouble last week when he made a joke at President Sarkozy's expense, so we may not be hearing anything funny from him again. Mitt Romney has never gotten a laugh in his life. Will no one save us from this impending gloom?
James Madison by Gilbert Stuart, 1804. Stuart painted the first six Presidents, including the Washington on our dollar bill, plus a thousand other American faces. The statesmen all appear formal and cerebral, reminding us that the United States did not begin as a populist democracy, but as a republic in the hands of an intellectual elite. Stuart himself was said to be an engaging personality who amused those who sat for him. What a waste that he didn't paint the smiles that he had evoked. Click on the picture for a closer look.