Photo by Kelli Campbell

I live in a landscape made for ghost stories.

The weeping willow tree has turned the color of a copper penny. When fog curls around the trunk, I half believe the headless horseman will pass by.

Perhaps the bright sunshine of summer washes out shades from the past. Or, perhaps my mind has been turned by pumpkin carving and costume making. Whatever the explanation, now that it is fall, I feel as if shadowy figures move just at the edge of sight.

There is an old farmhouse down the road. Hessian soldiers once camped on those fields as they marched to join the redcoats. I swear I have seen their faded muskets between the trees.

The practical Quakers who first settled here built their stone houses right up against the roads. It would have been wasteful to give up any of their cultivated land for the vanity of a front yard. Now when I slow to a stop at every four-way crossing, I feel as if the ghost of a silent Quaker housewife is watching from her parlor window.

In autumn this countryside of old stone walls, covered bridges, and somber Amish horse-drawn buggies works a subtle change in me.

We live so much of our lives in places that seem to have no past. I find it nearly impossible to believe in death while crossing a vast parking lot or standing beneath the fluorescent lights of a warehouse store. But here, where the sign on a neighbor’s farm says 1732 and the plaque on a spreading oak tree at the edge of our property is dated a hundred years before that, it is as if we still share these fields with those who lived and left so long ago.

Pagan storytellers claimed the wall between life and death becomes thin this time of year. The church may have recognized some truth in these stories when it called the body to remember all saints and all souls.

I am not sure if this season is truly different, or whether it is all a trick of this low autumn light, but when I notice a spray of golden leaves at the end of a long country road, it seems to mark a doorway. I can imagine reaching out and brushing aside a narrow curtain of fog. There, just on the edge of this everyday world, is a gathering of the departed and the One who called them home. They are so near.

And I wonder if my life might be different if I were to forget the lies of concrete and fluorescent light. I wonder what might change if I stopped more often to feel the nearness of the past and remember the swiftness of a lifespan.

What if I lived as if a great cloud of witnesses were as close as the sunlight beckoning from the other end of the covered bridge?

What if I lived as if each day brought me closer to that Light?

just beyond the bridge

by Christie Purifoy time to read: 3 min