September 18, 2023
By Norbert Blei
Working in a converted chicken coop north of Ellison Bay, for 40+ years writer Norbert Blei (8/23/1935 – 4/23/2013) chronicled Door County through the lives of its inhabitants. A revised edition of DOOR WAY: The People in the Landscape, the first book in Blei’s “Door Series,” was published August 2010 and is available at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik in Sister Bay. If you are a first-time visitor and have come to wonder about the true nature of the Door Peninsula, be sure to take a deeper dive into Norbert Blei’s writing. “January Notebook” is an excerpt from a larger writing project, covering each of the 12 calendar months, that Blei developed in the early 2000s.
THE EVENING OF LABOR DAY, just before sunset…one can almost hear the fields, the waters, the very air breathe a sigh. The trees shaking off the weight of summer
THE WILD APPLE TREE…jutting its crown of reds amongst a thicket of lesser trees with little to show this time of year but the wearing of the seasons, from green to gold, to utter nakedness. Surprises should come like this to the wanderer’s eyes. Taking the late afternoon for granted…such peace, such biting air, so many green trees still, awash in the wind. The regulation color of the day, my friend is dying green, the arboreal alchemist’s work of converting green to gold. But for the sudden flash of crimson in my midst. That juggler keeping all the balls aloft in magical performance, that unruly old timer of gnarled branches and rough bark making his quiet but entrance in September: that joker of a wild apple tree that brings nature to its knees with a red kiss and a crackling bite.
THESE COOL AND PERFECT MORNINGS IN SEPTEMBER…when the dew is thick and the field grasses, yellow, gold, bronze in their autumnal colors, saturated and aglow in morning light…bird songs have faded as far away as last spring as the skies are filled with calls of crow, blue jay, and the distant gull high and white in a rendezvous with sunrise and water over the big blue lake.
FIRST DAY OF FALL…appropriately enough, the first skein of geese heard and seen overhead flying south. A chill in the air. A foreboding of bad weather and isolation to come. A partially overcast morning, grey sky with the promise of light. A feeling that the day could go either way: despair or delight. Cool autumn mornings are often divided like that…the potential to create or destroy. Death is in the air, on the ground…in evidence everywhere in fields and roadsides filled with dying grasses, once tall, sturdy plants rotting before one’s eyes. One looks to the sky for help, but the sun is lost and the grayness of the day thickens.
SEPTEMBER WEEKENDS…tourists and traffic
AUTUMN MORNINGS OF MIST…
THE SILENCE OF SEPTEMBER…the feeling of abandonment
WEATHER–FIRST FROST PREDICTIONS/FIRST PREDICTION OF SNOW…the garden and the killing frost. Dead tomato plants, the one large fan-shaped leaves of the yellow squash now curled, color turned from vibrant green to deadly black and brown. We hold a wake in the garden this morning. A farewell to the red/yellow/orange cheekiness of tomatoes, the green pepper plants, all the tastes of summer.
WIND…leaf thrashing, scattering, blowing…limb bending, lashing…
ON THIS BEAUTIFUL SEPTEMBER MORNING…on my road early, riding a bike down toward the lake…breathing the tasty air, feeling the dew on my arms…all of this a prayer to the good and loving life. Death, illness, darkness–stay away. Thinking of a woman awakening on a boat somewhere on Lake Superior…standing on deck in white shorts and pink T-shirt, flouncing her glowing hair in the morning sun, embracing all the blue waters the eye can hold…holding me on a distant shore.
THE FRIENDLY FOG OF THESE SEPTEMBER MORNING, I call it. The fog that feigns little danger…its life is so fragile, so momentary, so airy. The fickle fog. The fog that lures you into the soft flannel fold and takes the chill out of mornings. Fog of the fields. Fog all around. You are the beauty that keep slipping through a man’s hands. Evanescent and everlasting. I long to lose myself within you, knowing full well in seconds, in moments, the sun will expose all in golden morning, light my foolish love for you, and you will be gone.
NOT INSIDE ENOUGH, which could serve as a chorus, a mantra of reprimand, the last ten years of my life here. It takes only my customary walk down the road on mornings like these, September morning of withdrawal…withdrawal from that world which is still too much with us, even here in the rural to which I escaped some thirty years ago…I walk and walk and am reminded of the god of silence, the faith of being back in the fold of nature, whatever the season, the color, the scent. The world of priorities, demands, has washed away. Once again I am invisible.
SILENT IS SEPTEMBER NIGHT…a strain to hear the slightest sound…be it bird, insect, mammal. The air is dead, even to wind. Northern lights will play perhaps, in a far-away sky, too far away for me to tell A full moon rises surreptitiously over the lake like a provocateur, wishing to be seen and not seen at the same time. All the insects have packed up their musical membrane instruments for concerts on a summer night. Even the most is dust in the moonlight upon the window screen. Them just before daylight, one exasperated sound coming from the woods. Part bird, part insect, part memory of the life that was lived in July.
THE APPLE TREE…in fall, beside the old farmhouse where once the old Swedish couple lived, always caught the stranger’s eye in any season–from apple blossom white, to the round green-red apples of harvest time hanging from the branches, begging to be picked–which the old woman did in bucket and apron, to make into pies the season long. The apple tree in winter, graced in snow was another vision entirely, coming into the yard. A diamond tiara sparkling in ice. It has witnessed so much in its long and lonely stand beside the simple white farmhouse, the small outbuildings, the neatly cut lawn, and the succession of tired black labs sleeping in the sun. A new, younger family now occupies the house and land, filling it with vehicles and equipment, outdoor jungle gyms and the shouts of children. The energetic, young father trims the unpicked, gnarly old apple tree, unpicked, fulsome in fruit, with saw and shears, clipping, clipping, clipping, till a crown of branches circle the tree, on top of all the rotten apples, already fallen at his feet. The shape, feel, presence of the old apple tree is gone. No one has done quite so much to the old tree at one time. It stands embarrassed, confused, out of place, fearful of what may come next.
IT’S ALMOST AS IF THE WIND KNOWS…knows it is the time to suddenly make itself seen, heard, known…to unexpectedly make an appearance out of nowhere: a lazy afternoon in September with maybe a single leafy branch of a maple tree gently kissed in pink or red; an early evening of darkness both closing and opening from overcast gray to a blackness beckoning wind, more wind…; a morning of moving trees, the woods whipping itself into a frenzy …whirling dervishes of branches, leafy green, yellow and red…the autumn of veil after veil till all the nakedness of November lies exposed. And the very air is bare.