Heaven Above, Autumn Its Chapel

Papa on the deck tending red-hot coals and spitting meat while listening to the football game on the television inside. In the kitchen, whoops of laughter from the ladies over some shared hilarity. Meanwhile, in the living room, raucous cheers from the guys as our team scores another touchdown. Harley, our lovable Great Dane barking and chasing the the kids as they run shrieking and out of the house and around the deck.

Another autumn settles in . Toasty, dry days and pleasantly cool nights. The trilling cicadas of summer are gone. The creeping dusk belongs now to the crickets and katydids. A Great Blue Heron takes leave of the marsh behind us, departing with its characteristic, harsh roh-roh-roh sound. I gaze at the woodpile and hope that we’ll soon have an evening cool enough to build a crackling fire in the fireplace. I’ll toss in a couple of logs of Irish peat to give the house the warm, welcome smell of an Irish country pub.

Later in the evening, with dessert finished, goodbyes, hugs and kisses all around, the dishes put away and the sun finally gone home from the sky, my wife and I brew tea and make hot chocolate and relax, elbow to elbow, in the wooden deck chairs outside. I build a fire in our old, Mexican chiminea, faded a pastel pinkish-orange, the bas-relief roses on it worn nearly smooth by the caressing hand of the years. Hoping for some petting or a possible treat, Harley joins us. I give him a marshmallow which he slurps and then lies down beside me, stretching and groaning, soon fast asleep.

My wife and I sit comfortably side by side, as older folk do, sipping our tea and cocoa and recounting, in low voices, the events of another day already in the history book of time. The sky is now as black as the devil’s heart. A harvest moon rises in the east, smiling expansively at us with its fat, golden face. Regal Jupiter ascends his throne in the east. Mars and Saturn crouch low in the southwest. Diamond-brilliant stars pierce the veil of the black sky amid the sweep of the constellations surrounding them. Andromeda, made immortal by Athena, shows her fair face alongside her parents. Perseus, her father, follows mother Cassiopeia across the firmament like a doting lover. We gasp in sudden wonder at a smatter of fiery meteorites spat like seeds across the sky by the hunter, Orion.

By now, I’m thinking of baked apples. While my wife stargazes and sips her tea, I slip back into the house and check the temperature of the oven. Finding it just so, I go to the counter and fetch the two, big apples I prepared earlier. It’s a family tradition handed down from my mama, God rest her. Earlier, I’d scooped out the apples’ seeded cores and filled the cavities with brown sugar, the tiniest kiss of butter and a big smooch of cinnamon. I’m slow and deliberate as I work. It’s a ritual and makes me remember times in mama’s fragrant kitchen.

Satisfied that I’ve gotten it just right, I wrap the prepped apples in foil, set them in a metal pan and put them in the hot oven. On the way back outside, I grab two of her soft, cozy Afghans and take them with me.

The fire in the chiminea has burned low. Only a few orange tongues still flicker. I go to the woodpile and select two, well-seasoned pieces of cedar I split last fall from a dying tree that a friend felled in his backyard. It put it in the chiminea and it blazes bright and fast, impregnating the air with its spicy bouquet. Dreaming of chasing rabbits perhaps, Harley’s legs twitch and he yips in his sleep.

The warm, homey aroma of cinnamon baked apples soon tells me they’re ready to eat. I ease back into the kitchen, remove them from the oven, set each of them in a small bowl and top off each with a dollop of whipped cream.

It’s getting late and Pegasus is grazing his way toward the midnight pastures. An airplane drones unseen, high overhead. he blazing cedar crackles and hisses. We’re snug in our Afghans. The baked apples are perfect tonight.

We eat them in silence. Sometimes silence is better than a prayer. Sometimes silence is an unspoken prayer. And what better place to pray than beneath heaven itself, with autumn as its chapel?

Have you read A Mariner’s Tale yet? I invite you to grab a copy for yourself and anyone you love this season…

A Pulpwood Queens International Book Club Selection, an American Fiction Award finalist, AND now optioned for a motion picture!

A Mariner’s Tale makes the perfect Christmas gift for the young and the young at heart!