A Terrible Beauty (Autumn Giveaway)

Sep 26, 2017

Elsa Spring at Maplehurst, two autumns ago



It’s like the difference between the blue of a puddle and the blue of the ocean, this difference between the autumn of memory and autumn itself.

All year long, I say with ease, “Autumn is my favorite season.” I say it for the color of the leaves and the apple-crispness of the air. I say it for planting bulbs and going for long drives on country roads in search of our favorite old sugar maple trees. I say it for back to school and the holidays nearing, but every year I forget that vast expanse between the idea of autumn and the encounter with it.

To borrow words from W. B. Yeats, I forget that every year, on or about the end of September, a terrible beauty is born.

I begin to remember when the yellow leaves of the walnut tree rattle down on the metal roof of the old red barn, and my delight is mingled with dread. The dread is bewildering. Isn’t this my favorite season?

Why do I feel both glad and afraid?


I live in the pastoral paradise of southeastern Pennsylvania. Bridges are still covered and sized for horse-drawn buggies. Fieldstone walls meander in rhythm with the song of brooks and streams. Old stone farmhouses with leaded windows sit snug against hillsides, protected from winter winds for hundreds of years.

The beauty of this place is sweet and easy. It is a beauty resonant of home and safety, shelter and cultivation – at least, until the trees wake up and begin to blaze.

We say we want pumpkins on the porch and a gold shimmer on the trees, but we forget that this beauty won’t only warm us, it will burn us, as encounters with the deepest, truest things always do.

Every year, autumn beauty – that unbearable fire and glory – breaks my heart a little more completely.

Another Irish writer, Edmund Burke, gave us his treatise On the Sublime and Beautiful in 1756, just when colonists in these parts were busy building the “brave brick houses” spoken of by William Penn. According to Burke, beauty originated in love while the sublime had its roots in fear. It is the difference between a green pasture dotted with sheep and a snow-covered peak, terrible and tall.

It is the difference between my home in late summer and my home in fall.


I think I am afraid because in no other season does time seem so swift and so cruel.

No sooner have I spied the first color in the treetops and shuffled the first golden feathers beneath my feet, than the limbs are bare. The landscape bleak. As Robert Frost once wrote, “… leaf subsides to leaf. / So Eden sank to grief, / So dawn goes down to day. / Nothing gold can stay.”

Spring’s color may be just as lovely, but it goes easy on our hearts, tapering out slowly into summer greenness until one hot day we realize that the circle of the year has shifted, and we are somewhere new.


Autumn is simply one season of four, but it isn’t a safe season. Autumn reminds me of Aslan of Narnia, “He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”

We can avert our eyes, shield our hearts, and try to keep this beauty from breaking our hearts, but winter will come whether we do that or not.

Floodwaters will rise.

Hurricane winds will blow.

The earth will tremble, and we will suffer. If anything is certain in life it is that we will suffer. The only question is whether we will suffer well?

There will be terror and there will be beauty, and some days, the line between the two will blur completely, and all our certainties seem up for grabs.

It helps, I think, to enter the barren season with eyes still full of glory.


The poet T. S. Eliot famously wrote of “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”

What will I shore up against the coming ruin of winter?

So many fall delights.

The beauty of this coming season may be terrible, but fortified by small beauties, perhaps we can bear it with more ease. Delights like apple crisp flavored with chai spices, a melancholy old novel, a bouquet of dahlias on the table, and, yes, a pumpkin on the porch.



Just in time for this new season: an Autumn Giveaway!



When I first imagined the book that eventually became Roots and Sky, I pictured an old-fashioned treasure, something like the books I seek out in thrift stores and used bookstores. I thought my stories would be interspersed with seasonal tips and recipes and nostalgic pen-and-ink illustrations.

Almost as soon as I began writing, I realized that the story I needed to tell was simpler and leaner. Those first four seasons at Maplehurst were more quiet and watchful than busy and industrious, and the book needed to reflect that.

But the idea of offering more – seasonal stories, tips, recipes, and beautiful illustrations – has never gone away.

This summer we celebrated five years of cultivating home in this Victorian red brick farmhouse.

I can’t think of a better way to mark that anniversary than by finally giving you the more I imagined so long ago. In fact, I plan to give you more (and more, and more, and more). I have four gifts planned, each one arriving with a new season.

In collaboration with the talented designer and illustrator Jennifer Tucker of Little House Studio, I’ve created four autumn-themed pages from that book of my dreams.

They are free for every one of my email subscribers to download and print.

One comes from my kitchen, two from the garden, and one from my bookshelves. Each page offers something practical and beautiful wrapped up in my own lyrical point of view.

I’m planning to print and frame mine, but they’ll do just as well tacked to a bulletin board or tucked into a garden journal or recipe box. Feel free to share this post with friends who might like to print their own.

Simply click the subscribe box below, enter your email address, and a confirmation email will be sent straight to you. Confirm your address, and you’ll be taken to the link in order to claim your download.

If you are already a subscriber, check your inbox. Your link should be waiting for you.


Here are two things to remember:

One: Autumn is fleeting, and so is this gift. TWO WEEKS from today, the offer expires, and the prints will no longer be available.

Two: Winter follows fast on autumn’s heels, and my winter pages should appear some time in December.


  1. Melissa

    Oh how wonderful! Thank you for sharing these lovely pieces of art with us and your thoughts. With the hot weather here in my part of eastern PA leaving today, then we’re to get the cooler temps, it will feel like Autumn.

  2. KimberlyAGeorge

    Oh my heart!
    This may be the first time someone else gets me and Autumn.
    I love it-the colors, the coolness, the bounty of the land.
    But knowing the bleakness ahead does frighten me.
    You are right about the swiftness. Our leaves just started turning and our mountains will already peak this weekend. One must pay attention and set aside the time, or it’s gone in a heartbeat. Or a storm around here.
    I never had Autumn growing up in the desert.
    Even now it stuns me.

    • Christie Purifoy

      “Even now it stuns me.” I grew up without a real autumn in Texas, and, yes, I feel exactly the same: stunned, every year.

  3. Sherry

    I have no idea of how to access these downloadable prints – I have subscribed and confirmed

    • Christie Purifoy

      I’m sorry you’ve had trouble, Sherry. When you click on the confirmation email you should be directed back to a landing page on my website with another link for the downloads. Click that link, and the PDF file should download automatically. If you were already a subscriber, your link for the download is included in my email newsletter. Let me know if it doesn’t work. Thank you!

  4. lynndmorrissey

    Ah Christie, it’s all working now. Who knows? This time, rather than clicking on your email link, I went directly to the website, and clicked on this offering. And here I am. Luck you! Oh my. But to restate what I said in my email, this is exquisite, as all your posts are. And I do understand your autumn reservations and the poignancy of Frost’s lovely poem (a favorite). But I have come to make peace with winter–the stark beauty, the blessed serenity of it. And once the leaves have torched and blown away, I see an exquisite clarity of noble structure. It gives me hope that maybe I can find the same simplicity in my life someday. Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote a lovely poem about the winter tree. I understood her sentiments as well. BTW, I don’t think I said to you how much I loved the photo of whom, I presume, is your little girl. The way she runs and holds her hands, just so, is poetry personified. Thank you for capturing beauty in words and images.

    • Christie Purifoy

      Thank you, Lynn. I’m going to look for that poem. I can almost imagine it …

  5. Kate N.

    I usually just read without leaving a reply, but so often your posts draw me in for a second, or even a third read. I love your words, you write about things that are deep in my soul, feelings that I haven’t the time to process in my mind, yet there they are on paper and page, me reading my self. You’ve expressed the love and dread of autumn so perfectly. Be encouraged to continue. And thank you.

    • Christie Purifoy

      Thank you, Kate. We read to know we are not alone, but I also write to know I’m not alone! Thank you for taking the time to share your response with me. It does my heart good.

  6. Danielle Jones

    Love your printables! I am going to frame one of the first two to put on my mantle! And I loved The Doll’s House by Rumer Godden as a child. I remember it was a tad disturbing–although I can’t remember why. But Godden’s books always seem to have a hint of darkness to them.

    • Christie Purifoy

      They do, don’t they? I think that’s why I love them. Also, it’s why The Doll’s House was such a good read-aloud for our family. My oldest was skeptical about a doll’s house story, but she appreciated the theme of sacrificial love (but I won’t say any more and give away the ending!). And my boys didn’t want to read about dolls, but they were captivated a few pages in – the doll characters are so vivid and wonderful.

  7. Briana M Almengor

    “…fortified by small beauties, perhaps we can bear it with more ease. Delights like apple crisp flavored with chai spices, a melancholy old novel, a bouquet of dahlias on the table, and, yes, a pumpkin on the porch.”
    Good start and words that will provide justification for my ‘indulgences” of all the fall beauties and treats!

  8. katieleigh

    Thank you for this, Christie. Autumn stuns me and breaks my heart every year, too. I love it and it also wrecks me – and I love the comparison to Aslan. He isn’t safe, but he is good – and so is this season. I needed the reminder.



  1. for your weekend, volume 1 - […] warm us, it will burn us, as encounters with the deepest, truest things always do.”  – A Terrible Beauty,…

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