Some fall days chilly melancholy sweeps in like the chill air following a cold front sweeping down from the north. That happened to me yesterday. By early afternoon I was feeling sorry for myself because it would be dark by six, instead of staying light until eight as it did just a couple of months ago. I knew that the best thing to do would be to go for a walk. The stiff cold northeast breeze that I encountered crossing the bridges from New Bedford to Fairhaven almost drove me back home, but I plodded on. When I got to the short stretch of beach at Fort Phoenix, that same wind blew some of the melancholy out of my head — that, and seeing a Great Blue Heron, its head hunched down in its shoulders, standing on a rock in the water and staring out to sea — but melancholy came rushing back in when I left the beach to walk through the neat gridwork of residential streets in that part of Fairhaven. Something about suburban streets can seem so gloomy. Each street with its neat houses looked pretty much like the last street, to the point where I wasn’t quite sure where I was, or where I was going; I had to find my way by keeping the sun over my left shoulder, as if I were walking in a trackless waste somewhere.
At last I made it to the bike trail, which follows the route of the old railroad grade. Following the bike trail, I walked through an old industrial area, with big open spaces, an old beat-up brick factory building, occasional pieces of heavy equipment to look at, a row of empty red Dumpsters lined up. After crossing a little side street, the trail passed through a swamp, with a few red maples still glorious with crimson leaves and silver maples thick with with yellow and green leaves. Asters growing together in a loose clump stood nearly six feet high, covered with the most amazingly purple flowers; their flowers stood out against the brilliant red leaves of a thick growth of poison ivy growing over shrubs and trees. The intensity of those colors, the purple flowers and the red leaves, drove most of the melancholy out of me. That, and getting out of the urban gridwork of streets. Immature White-crowned Sparrows flew to and fro in the tangle of brush on either side of the bike trail, chirping merrily to each other as they went.
I climbed up the old road to the top of the hurricane barrier, where the wind hit me again, and I looked out over the green-gold salt marsh hay, over the blue water of the bay, to the Elizabeth Islands shimmering in the late afternoon warmth. Then I turned and walked back, the setting sun in my eyes the whole way home.