gold in the green; red in the black
Hollis Norcoat had always seemed like a giant, to his nephew—and he had that sort of giantess that seemed unnatainable, as though no matter how much Paxton grew, he would always have to hurry just to keep up. That day, in his heavy coat and with his giant, tan boots, his thick beard and his smiling cheeks, Uncle Hollis looked like a huge bear—and a happy one, at that.
The road wound endlessly up through the avenues of trees—but Paxton didn’t mind. No matter how far they went, they always somehow encountered new colors, brighter and richer, and trees that were different than those down in the groves beside the house.
“More evergreen up here,” said the uncle. “But just wait until we get to the top. I’ve got a thing or two to show you, there. I used to take little Lucy up here every year, but she’s got a bit tired of the trek. I knew you’d want to see it, though.”
The wind was icy, but the sun had a warmth to it, whenever it fond a gap to slip through, and fall slantways onto their shoulders. Paxton’s breath became a cloud that tried to block his eyes as they climbed higher and higher. His lungs ached from the cold and his legs burned from he climb, but with every step his wonder and excitement somehow swelled.
It wasn’t long before they reached a spot where his uncle put a hand on his shoulder and pointed to an upcoming break in the trees, through which nothing but sky could be seen. “Just around this corner,” he said eagerly.
Paxton could hardly help but run toward the turn, and his uncle didn’t stop him. His breath escaped in bursts as he ran, but when he came around the corner, and when he saw the reason that they’d both come so far, he abandoned whatever little bit of breath he still had.
Before him, the road slipped away into a rolling bed of boulders and red rocks, tumbling into the endless expanse of trees. But these trees were different than the ones they'd left around the house. Most were those everyday evergreens, unchanging and familiar—but in their midst, scattered like stars, stood trees of shining, solid gold. They burned like torches amidst the mottled blue and grey, a pattern that wrinkled and rippled into hills crowned in clouds like cotton candy.
It was unlike anything Paxton had ever seen. He stood, unsure of what to say or do. His eyes were too busy for his brain to really have any say. He was searching—as children often do, for something b which he could make sense of this. Some means of appropriating this glorious view, into something that he could hold onto more plainly.
Trees like fire. Like honey. Gold, like his mother’s ring. Like…like something and yet entirely like nothing.
The problem with autumn, you see, is that it really isn’t like anything. In fact, the more he stared, hunting for words, the more he realized that this was the sort of thing that other things were like—but that was itself like nothing but itself. And there aren’t many things like that. He was lucky, in so short a life, to have already encountered so many.
“Two weeks,” his uncle said. “Two weeks, and all the yellow will be gone. They’ll drop their needles and the whole hillside will turn black and white and blue with the snow. Just you wait.”
Paxton heard these words with a pang of stark, almost frustrated seriousness. He didn’t really want to see it. He didn’t want to even think of the gold falling off, of snow coming down to cover all this. It was a horrible thought.
“I don’t want to watch them die,” he said.
“Die?” Hollis chuckled thinly. “Oh, son. They don’t die. They only go to sleep. And the snow comes to tuck them in and keep them warm until morning. And just you see this place then. It’s own beauty, is spring. The colors against the ocean of green.” And then he put a hand on the boy’s shoulder to say, “Nothing dies, really. Everything wakes, in time.”
It was strange, to hear such gentle and lovely words come from such a massive and rough-handed man. But it somehow made sense, too. It was somehow autumnal. It reminded Paxton of the strength that his little mother carried around inside her, and at once the thought of her forced his eyes forward again. “I wish mum could see this,” he said.
“Oh don’t you worry,” said the uncle, and the hand on the shoulder squeezed fondly. “She’ll see them again. Don’t you worry.”
Together the two of them stood, watching the collapse of the afternoon into evening, the sunlight giving out like breaking pillars. The boy thought about his mother; about her little smiles and sweet words and about how much he’d like to bring her here, and about that book that she kept on the floor beside her chair, which she looked into every now and then, to see the colors of the leaves.
The uncle thought of his sister. And he thought of the trees—how soon they’d give up. He thought about her pale face, with the cold and the dark looming around it. He saw her like gold against green. And the boy who stood beside him, his mind and heart swelling with wonder, was red against black. Something sturdy. Strong. Something that would last.
There was something in him that the uncle recognized. You see, people assume that, in order to truly be magical, a thing has to be disordered, nonsensical, inexplicable—but it doesn’t. They try to make sense of colors and they make sense of changing leaves and assume that just because microscopes exist, real magic can’t.
Only they can’t change the fact that what Paxton saw, on those hills, was fire. What he felt was glory, and it tingled. Maybe magic doesn’t exist laboratories—and really why would it?
But it exists out there. And once you see it, really see it, and once it gets into you, it changes you.
You see, the problem with “people” is that they are most always wrong.