This morning, among fallen horse-chestnut leaves, I found one perfect buckeye which I picked up and polished in my palm: a souvenir of the season.

Maple leaf on rhododendron

It’s mild and partly cloudy today after yesterday’s unremitting gloom and last night’s rain: a perfect Saturday. It’s Columbus Day weekend, so half of Massachusetts will be driving up to New Hampshire to look at the leaves of others while half of New Hampshire drives up to Maine. As for J and I, we’ll stay close to home this weekend, realizing our own backyard is just as lovely as anyone else’s.

This morning I saw a single red maple leaf snagged in spider-silk, wildly dancing in a breeze that showered down its gold and crimson fellows. It was almost eerie to see one single maple leaf caught in suspension, as it autumn itself were held in abeyance.

Dogwood berries

Time stops for no one, and changing leaves and ripening berries are a vivid reminder of that simple fact. These days of gold and crimson are the ones we New Englanders live for, cherish, and hold in memory: bright days savored against bleak times. These are the days that get us through the cold, monochromatic days of December and January, when color is a distant memory.

This isn’t something a leaf-peeping tourist can appreciate, for the true beauty of a New England autumn doesn’t fully ripen until mid-winter, when both the leaves and their peepers are gone. In the dark days of mid-winter, only hope and the memory of bright gold and crimson breezes remain, curled like cotyledons in their seeds. The memory of these bright and brilliant days is what we New Englanders tuck inside our souls like folded snapshot, a cherished memento to cheer us when the nights are long and cold.