The falling leaves of our autumn years

Dalton Delan
4 min readOct 27, 2023

In the lobby of the Peace Hotel in Shanghai, a jazz trio plays soft and sweet in memory. They were a relic, then as now. October in the railroad earth, as Jack Kerouac would have it. Like that lonesome traveler, I awaken by the San Francisco Bay. I am a transient here. My skin and lungs are accustomed to the Atlantic. The Pacific is far too vast for me, its cold waves sounding.

Friends and fellow workers, roommates and every other living thing tumble like the leaves of fall. In Israel and Ukraine, it is a leafstorm. In this deciduous blizzard, I sense harbingers of my own blowing away. Their time today, mine tomorrow. Autumn frightens me this way. The pulsing of my blood echoing through the pillow in my one good ear alternates moments of resignation and panic. Life, precious life. Such a fragile glass.

When, recently, I spoke with the world’s foremost expert on loneliness for one of our Eagle Reels episodes, I joshed whether that were a crown she had always dreamed of wearing. She wised me up that it was less a state of being than one of unbelonging. Those of us of differing size, brain, heritage, ethnicity, shade of skin, whatever container you put us in, we are emotional outsiders. The journey from observer to participant and back again is the arc of life. Once I was young. Now, not so much.

The path narrows in the woods. When driving, signs that read “Dead End” evoke dismay. How right you are, you sign-makers, convicted of an existential truth you do not intend. I try not to take these lanes. The road less traveled is frosty consolation. In a recurring dream, I turn and turn again, macadam ribboning into infinity. Then I wake, and what was once so far is upon me.

I haven’t the words for what it signifies to enter that final third. All I have learned is dust in an old man’s trouser cuff. The indignities of age soak me with the autumn rains. Body and mind begin to betray, losing this, forgetting that. Who am I to wonder, who know so little. I have spent so much time missing the meaning, passing days with bits and bytes of labor that fed body and mind. Yet in that field of dreams are moments, fleeting like a sunset sky. Four-leaf clovers of luck I plucked and snuck away. Most of all, wife, children, family, friends, colleagues near and far. With some, names not even remembered, seconds that last a lifetime. Snapchat glimpses of human connection.

How lucky am I to have made it this far while so many of the fallen fill my memory bank. They dance before me now above the keys, vivid as if it were yesterday. I hear their voices, see their smiles. I can almost taste the tenderness of their companionship on this lonely road. Back and forth I have spun in my life. I have been lost and found between the solitude of writing and the crowd of teamwork. Making music in amazing places. Spending time with heroes and horrors, boldface names and those unknown except to me. All are arrayed in the museum of mind. Soon remembrance will dissolve into empty space. In the vastness of the universe, my being is not even the tiniest nail of the smallest toe on the shortest foot of a dwarf star whose apparent light is but a remnant of eons past. There is nothing there. You can’t go home again.

I generally keep such musings to myself. People prefer a smile, a quip, a get-up-and-go that has got-up-and-went. This is my doppelganger in the pre-dawn hours, the twin nobody sees. In dreams, I am tossed upon cloudy seas with my father and mother. I try to find harbor with the kids when they were young. But when the clock chimes four in the morning, I take my turn to stand in a line moving to the checkout counter. All that I have experienced over decades fills an imaginary shopping cart and drips through its latticework. Disappearing ink. Mementos that have weighed me down will not bring pennies on the dollar to my heirs. Inanimate things have lost all meaning to me, tasteless fruit like cardboard in the mouth.

Hope may be the thing with wings, but its feathers litter the sand. I run its grains through my toes, finding the cheer each given day allows. Daylight returns my smile to me. The only easy day was yesterday. Tomorrow is a slow train. We live in an eternal now until we don’t. I leave the brown study for the sunroom. Adjust the shades on the bridge of my nose. Rev the trusty V8. Forge ahead once more. Even a rock can roll.



Dalton Delan

Winner of three Emmy Awards, Dalton Delan pens biweekly The Unspin Room, which began August 7, 2016 in The Berkshire Eagle; it has appeared in 50+ newspapers.