Paul Greenberg
The old boy walked the bike out the door of his house in Little Rock and into Heaven, aka autumn in Arkansas. In all its burning-tree glory.

It was hard to tell which golden view high above the winding Arkansas River he preferred. One after another, the great oaks were turning into splendor. He knew others would burst forth any day. He tried to pick a favorite tree on his route. He decided it would be the next one to turn. As with all good things, anticipation may be the sweetest part.

It had been hot, dry summer for so long, all this was still new to him, as it is every blessed year -- the early morning cool, the crackle of the leaves, the scent of fall itself, like a lover returning. ("Had you forgotten me? Did you think I'd forgotten you? How could you!")

These days he needed a thin jacket for the morning ride around the neighborhood. October had come as a relief from another summer that refused to end and confirmed that all this surreal beauty hadn't been part of just an imagined past. By November, it was the vivid present -- the fresh breeze, the unfolding palette of autumn colors. Welcome back! Fall was bustin' out all over.

The leaves were already starting to fall in the yard and invading the oddest corners of the house. How do they do it -- manage to infiltrate in such numbers and in so many places ... it was a mystery to him. (So much was.) But it happened every year. He didn't mind picking them up, not yet. They were a welcome sign the seasons still change. Some things were right with the world.

Last time he'd taken U.S. 65 through southern Arkansas on the way to Mississippi, the heat of the day still shimmered off the old/new plantation house that had been restored at Lakeport. It rose off the highway like a throwback to the 1850s, when the original house had been built just in time for The War and the ruination that had come with it.

Men still make the mistake of assuming the future will be but a projection of the present. If we paid more attention to the past, we might know life is just full of surprises, some of them less than pleasant.

Why do we think of peace as the natural state of things and war as an interruption, when it could just as well be the other way around? Why do we speak of the Thirty Years War and not the Thirty Years Peace? We speak of the historic Civil War, not the historic civil peace that came before and after. As if peace, too, did not require heroism, sacrifice, self-discipline and daring stratagems.

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.