Paul Greenberg

By the time the surrender was signed at Appomattox, the countryside had been torn apart by guerrilla warfare, and those who returned from the various fronts would find little but desolation. The tax rolls from 1855 to 1865 tell the sad story: from pride and plenty to almost nothing to declare. But now, with the grand house being restored, you can almost see the ghosts taking in the last, lost hopeful air of a long-ago summer in he year 1859 A.D….

But today fall had finally arrived up here in Little Rock. Just this mornng. Little Rock is right on the cusp between Mountain and Delta South. Here fall is so new every day would be new for a while. He breathed deep. And shivered. He set the bike outside and went back for a jacket, the first time he’d had to wear one this season. It felt good.

All was perfection and yet … it wasn’t. He should have been delighted. And he was, but only in an abstract way, the way you are when you know how you’re supposed to feel but don’t, not really, not all the way through. He was resentful. He actually missed the heat, the heat he’d been complaining about for months. Since August. Even September seemed stifling this year. Now the heat was gone and … he missed it.

It took him a moment to realize why. It wasn’t the coming of fall he resented, it certainly wasn’t the heat of summer he missed — goodness, no — it was the passage of time. The sun shone, but for a moment mortality had cast its shadow. The beauty of the physical world in its new aspect only brought it home. How he was going to miss all this. To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die….

Once he put the feeling into words, it was gone. Resolved. He understood, and to understand is to accept. Now he was free to enjoy the brisk air, the good feel of the jacket on his back, the old neighborhood all new again in the cool air.

All the oh-so-important things he had to do today, which had so pressed on his mind when he’d got up, were no longer of any moment. They fell into place. Ecclesiastes had it right from first to last: Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity. … Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart.

And off he peddled into golden fall. It had finally got here. It was definitely, finally, whole-heartedly October in Arkansas. Heaven had arrived.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.