All Saints

“You’ll have to make do with just a little bit of color.”

Antonello says this as I snap a picture of three perfectly petite orange leaves in the middle of the woods. It is All Saints Day, the first of November and a national holiday, and we are walking through the forest: an easy hike to the tiny church of La Grotta Dei Frati. Antonello looks at me and points at the trees all around. He is right. Here the colorful leaves are few and far between, tucked into pockets of green, and it is only on the furthest leaves, the highest up, where pale yellow foliage turns a peachy pink. The forest floor is littered with rust colored leaves, papery and bright, sprinkled with the occasional yellow. We kick them up in puffs of color, playfully.

Grotta dei Frati

This is the Italian autumn of every year, the same season that follows that blazing beauty of summertime, with all of its sunflowers and beaches, its fields freckled in poppies and sunshine. These Italian autumns are a study in beiges and gold. The rain, the brisk air, the kind of mist filled valleys and ginger soft hills that fill the mornings. The bright leaves that I remember from driving down any given road in Indianapolis are not present here: those maples that sing with yellows and fiery reds. I’ve been complaining about it since September. On Saturday I went for a hike with a couple of friends to find fall in the mountains. It’s like an American autumn! One friend announced as we turned a corner, where a bright yellow tree shook her leaves down like snow. It was beautiful, but it was not home. My autumns, the ones I know by heart, are simply overflowing with color. With pinks and oranges. With sunburnt yellows and crimson reds. The pumpkin patches and the apple orchards are awash with fall. Nothing here quite compares. But I didn’t tell her that.

So now we walk, Antonello and I, and those thoughts are in my head. I think of my autumns. The people I miss. The way the Gingko by the front porch drops all of her butterscotch leaves at once. I think of all of that. The path here is narrower than I expected, and there are rocks that block the trail, that we jump over, just a little hop and we are on our way. There are wooden signs up, painted with bright red and white arrows: Lago di Fiastra. Gola di Fiastrone. And finally: Grotta Dei Frati. In the air you can feel it: the rain is coming. The tiniest, mistiest of drops. Antonello stops to admire an oak that has built its roots into a rock wall. They snake and twist and fill all of the spaces they can. Their leaves are a sturdy dark kind of green, shiny and new, like a summer morning or the late days of spring. I smile to think that maybe Italian forests are built for every season. Each tree holds onto its own: the greens of spring and summer, the purples of fall, berries that speak of winter. I stop. I take pictures: close up shots of all the shades of red. Antonello is walking still, ahead of me.

And it isn’t long before he’s calling to me again. First he says: listen for the birds! I stop, put my foot down mid step. There is a squawking from one tree, echoed across the river by another bird. There is a trill, and then the sweetest of bird songs. Call and response. And Antonello waits a little bit further, a little bit ahead of me. He is steps away from the church, but he’s looking out toward the mountains. I step swiftly along the forest floor, the usual crinkling of leaves, that crisp sound of fall, is missing, and I wonder how many times this path has been trodden.

I catch up to Antonello. He is standing there, with one hand on the fence — a lookout point, a balcony of sorts — in front of us. We look out together — at the clean drop of rock, at the trees in the crevices, maples in their vermillion hues, and, further up, at the forest that covers the mountain. Here it is, flames of scarlet red and brightest orange, outnumbering the greens and browns. The clouds are low, and the whistles of wind blow through the air. It is stunning here. It is soft, brindled shades of Italian autumn.

I turn to Antonello. “It’s beautiful. It’s almost Shenandoah.” I say.

He pauses. “The battle?” He asks.

“No. The Valley.”

I can tell he wants to say more. He wants to add that they are very much the same thing (and explain to me how so), but he looks at me and I just smile, my lips tight, my eyes clear. Those same birds that sang before are singing again, and we can hear the sound of the river below, furling and tumbling its way along the valley floor as if in a hurry to get somewhere. We are in no hurry though. The church is around the corner, tucked into the folds of the rock. The path is sweet and winding, and we are deep in the woods now. And I think to myself (do I say it aloud?): I will never have my autumns. Not here. But for a moment it seems, in this quiet that we’ve found, like Italy is lending an autumn to us, giving us a little bit of her own. In the colors, in the church, in the forest floor. I can hear Antonello breathing. I can hear the birds and the river too. And I can hear the rain as it begins to fall — soft and slow, leaf by leaf — tiptoeing its way across the trees.

Today I’m listening to: Country Road by James Taylor.

Published by Jackie in Italy

I'm living in Le Marche Italy. It's 2020 and we're all on lockdown (update: still blogging even though lockdown is over). Welcome to my blog.

7 thoughts on “All Saints

  1. Nice post, Jackie. Autumns here are uniquely beautiful, I must admit. You’ll have to time your next trip home in late September, early October to catch it. 🙂


  2. I remember a post of yours last year too expressing nostalgia for the American autumn (sorry, fall). Italy may not offer quite the same autumnal drama but you seem to have tracked down some beauty and delight nevertheless.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a delightful lyrical post! I never realized color change in autumn isn’t the same in Italy — too far south? Makes me treasure my Minnesota autumn even more.


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