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Alex Woodard - The Autumn lyrics

III. THE AUTUMN

Fall is nature's grace time;

giving you a chance to put things in order, for the dying.

It is a time for remembering.

— The Education of Little Tree

* * *

Dear Anno,

The leaves have begun to change again. It began a few weeks ago, but with a subtlety I am not sure I can describe. As if Nature was planning a surprise party, for weeks the plans go on behind your back, bit by bit. Then suddenly one morning you walk outside, and the brisk autumn air screams “SURPRISE!” You look up and see all the colors, like old friends: orange, umber, yellow, sienna, burgundy, green, and brown. The trees are ablaze in a patchwork of fiery brilliance that comforts your very soul.

My favorite coffee shop has pumpkin coffee now. I drink it down in gulps that fill my thoughts with memories of autumns past when we carved funny faces in pumpkins and ate caramels as we walked in the woods looking for pinecones. We were so young then, so happy and free spirited. I still feel that way sometimes. It's like a cosmic gift from the universe. It doesn't happen often, but when it does- Oh, the feeling! Like an orgasm for the soul when you feel alive and free of worry. When doubt and fear are strangers to you and you remember what fun feels like. Do you remember fun? We used to have lots of it this time of year; jumping in leaf piles and laughing, hot apple cider flowing in our veins, the smell of cinnamon and spice in the air.

It lasted only a short time before the season of hot cocoa and snowflakes would quickly drift in and frost over our little world, but while it lasted, autumn was a happy time. We were young and in love, and the world was beautiful.

I still miss you, you know, when the trees are on fire, my heart yearns for you. When the night becomes chilled and the hot apple cider is sipped around the bonfires, I still think of you. Sometimes, I swear I can feel your arms wrap around me at night when I stand out in the cold. The cool night wind tickles my neck like the scruff of your unshaved face as we cuddled close to the fire.

I don't know where the soul goes when a person dies, but I hope it is autumn where you are, too, and that you think of me sometimes when the leaves blow off the trees and the jack-o-lanterns are smiling. I miss you.

Forever . . . Your Em

I can feel my heart beat faster as I crawl inside Emily's letters and feel her loss and love and gratitude, different from my own but the same at its source. As I read I realize that I'm allowed into her words because she received me somehow: she heard a song of mine somewhere, connected to it, and let me in. Someone was listening.

I show her letters to Sean Watkins, who I've come to know through the “family dinners” in my neighborhood. The “family” is made up of both neighbors and a diverse cast of local songwriters and musicians, held together mostly by this small stretch of San Diego coastline. The dinners are potluck affairs that almost always end with guitars and a mess of other instruments blanketing the floor and furniture. I'm invited to my first family dinner at a neighbor's house that autumn, a couple of weeks before Emily's letters show up.

I walk across the street with my guitar and a bottle of six-dollar wine, stepping through the front door and into a conversation between Jon Foreman and Jordan Pundik, who front the rock bands Switchfoot and New Found Glory. Sean and his sister Sara Watkins, from bluegra** band Nickel Creek, are sitting at the dinner table already, and I recognize a few other people from the neighborhood scattered around the room. By the time the night is over, we've laughed, told stories, played songs, and butchered a cover of Bon Jovi's “Wanted Dead or Alive.” I come back home and fall into bed with a small smile and the seed of a feeling like I might belong here.

Autumn takes hold, and my friendship with Sean continues to grow out of that first family dinner. He soon claims his own spot in the corner of my couch and, with one hand on the TV remote and one on his guitar, watches shows about ghost hunting that he never quite believes but still can't stop watching. I show him Emily's letters, and we decide to write a song together because her words resonate with him, too.

Sometimes I write songs for people who tell me their stories, but never with someone else like this, especially in my “leave me alone, I have to write” state of mind. I loosen the reins on that control the afternoon Sean comes over to the house and plays guitar while we hum melodies back and forth. We trade lyric ideas, and I notice how he picks up on different parts of her letter, as if he sees her sentences through another lens.

Sean goes home and comes back a few days later with “For the Sender” close to done. When I listen to the demo he's recorded in his garage during a storm the night before, I can hear the sound of the rain on the roof pounding a sense of catharsis into the song. Sometimes songs take different shapes as they evolve, and this one has become about expressing pain, or joy, or just what is . . . and how maybe, hopefully, that's enough.

* * *

For the Sender

hello my friend

it's me again

writing words I cannot send you

autumn's cold

the leaves are old

and letting go but not me

cause it's when we met

and it's when you left

and it's when our love was the best

so every year I write you this letter

but like a prayer

it's more for the sender

do you remember

sometimes I swear

you're in the air

am I just a great pretender

am I alone

I want to know

if you remember

it's when we met

and it's when you left

and it's when our love was the best

so every year I write you this letter

but like a prayer

it's more for the sender

do you remember

do you remember

do you remember

do you remember

***

A few days later I set up a small recording studio downstairs in my living room with my laptop, some microphones, and a piece of equipment I buy on Craigslist. We record another version of “For the Sender” and I send the song to Emily as a thank-you for sending the letters to me. The next morning I get a note from her.

I smiled this big once . . . when I met him.

I cried this hard once . . . when I lost him.

After hearing this song, I am doing them both at once and loving every second of it.

Never have I heard something so beautiful. I am in awe and feeling so . . . well . . . there's just no words, except I think I now know what heaven sounds like.

Thank you.

Emily

I want to somehow make her feel that way again. I want to make her smile and cry and love deeply and completely, even if just for a moment. I want to make her feel that way because I want to feel that way, too.

So I write another song for her called “My Love Will Find You,” about those first moments of reading her letter when the air caught in my throat. Her words “I'm one of the lucky ones” remind me of the poem by Tennyson, about it being better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. I imagine Emily moving through her days, speaking to her lost love, and sometimes hearing him tell her that he's there in the small moments. When she's feeling lost, his love will find her.

As I write the lyrics I keep hearing Jordan's powerful voice singing the choruses in my head. I make up my mind to find him at the next neighborhood family dinner and ask him to sing the song. He's hard not to find because he's a tall guy, on his way to being a tattoo artist, who has run out of space to practice on himself. He's sitting on the couch and shows me drawings he's recently done. They are beautifully intricate and seem to speak the way art does when words aren't enough.

I tell him about the song and ask if he'd like to sing the choruses. He nods his head and asks to hear it and I say, “Hang on a minute” and walk casually out the door, like it's no big deal. But as soon as I hit the driveway, I frantically run across the street, explode into my house, and grab my guitar and the lyrics, which I've written down earlier that day on a used piece of computer paper. I rush back to my neighbor's house and try to open the front door as calmly as I closed it. I hand Jordan the words and start to play the guitar while he sits on the couch and sings off the crumpled page, just like I heard the words in my head.

He says he'll sing the song as soon as I have the music done, so I call the band I've put together to play shows and record songs in San Diego. I've met some of the musicians here in town while wading slowly into San Diego's musical waters, and a few other guys I know from Seattle, where we waited for some kind of break in the rain before relocating to Southern California. I start calling them the Naysayers, because we are all a little jaded from the wait.

We record the music downstairs with my simple studio gear, and Jordan comes over to sing the choruses on a microphone set up in my entryway. He raises his arms triumphantly in the air as he sings “Shining down out loud,” and I can feel the whole song lift with his energy.

I don't know who to ask to sing Emily's voice in the verses until the night I play on the same bill with Molly Jenson at the Belly Up Tavern. I tell her that I love the way she sings when we meet backstage, but I don't know her well enough yet to ask.

A few weeks later, however, she's at my house. She's a friend of Sean's, and he's asked her to sing a last-minute harmony on “For the Sender.” I play her “My Love Will Find You” while she's here to see if she'd like to sing that one, too. She says she'd love to help, and as she sings, I quietly sense that some part of the song will somehow manifest in my own life. But it's a pa**ing thought, and by the time Molly's done, I forget I ever had it.

* * *

My Love Will Find You

under amber autumn sky

forever never say goodbye

you held me close darling don't you cry

to love at all is the reason why

when you breathe i'm breathing inside you

when you run i'm running behind you (you said)

when you're feeling lost in the crowd

my love will find you

another autumn come undone

I still surrender the love we won

to the pages of tennyson

who loves at all is the lucky one

when you breathe i'm breathing inside you (i breathe)

when you run i'm running behind you (i run)

when you're feeling lost in the crowd
[Lyrics from: https:/lyrics.az/alex-woodard/for-the-sender/the-autumn.html]

my love will find you

when you sleep i'm dreaming your gray skies blue (i sleep to dream)

shining down out loud

my love will find you

in sky blue

I find you,

you

ever since you went away

I try to smile my way through the day

I wrote you this letter to tell you I remember

and on this autumn wind I still hear you say

when you breathe i'm breathing inside you

when you run i'm running behind you (you said)

when you're feeling lost in the crowd

my love will find you

when you sleep i'm dreaming your gray skies blue (i sleep to dream)

shining down out loud

my love will find you

when you cry i'm crying inside you (i cry)

when you stand i'm standing beside you (i stand)

when you need a beautiful sign

I will remind you

when you sleep i'm dreaming your gray skies blue (i sleep)

shining down out loud

my love will find you

my love will find you

my love will find

my love will find

my love will find

you

* * *

I've been writing and singing about myself for so long that, listening back to those two songs later that night, I realize that it's the first time I've written and recorded someone else's voice singing someone else's story. In this new anonymity I begin to feel lighter and free, like a door has opened into a bright, airy room I've never seen, one that's been in my house the whole time but I always just walked past.

And now that I'm in the room, I don't want to leave, so I start another song about Emily's letter. One morning out in the water I ask Jon Foreman to come over and help me finish it. Jon and I are surfing together more often since that first family dinner, and when I paddle next to him he reaches his hand out, looks me in the eye, and asks how I am. And I know he means it. Small things like this tell me that Jon may be a great surfer and inspiring songwriter, but he's a better person.

He walks around the living room singing melodies and phrases as I play him the music I've come up with so far, and within a few minutes he hits on a chorus tag of “you are never alone.” We finish the rest of the song over email while he's on the road, and I record the music downstairs with the Naysayers. I wait for Jon to come home for Christmas so we can record his vocal, but the holidays come and go and he gets backlogged with commitments before going back into the studio to work on the next Switchfoot album. I'm disappointed because I want to stay anonymous in the song and I think Jon could deliver a way better vocal than me, but after a couple weeks of waiting I abandon hope and head downstairs to sing it myself.

As I'm setting up to record my vocal, I get a phone call from Jon. I haven't spoken with him since our New Year's Eve family dinner, but he calls en route to Switchfoot's studio for their first day of recording. He says he'll be here in five minutes to sing our song, so I frantically search around for a pop screen, which is sort of a necessary noise-reducing mesh filter for the microphone. I can't find one so I have to improvise, and 15 minutes later Jon is singing “Never Alone” into pantyhose wrapped around a wire hanger.

* * *

Never Alone

we watched the western sky

falling like a landslide

we saw the half-light disappear

I know how it hurts inside

to watch the dead leaves dry

on your own year after year

I would never leave you

I would never leave you

even in your pain

you are never alone

you are never alone

we walk the streets tonight

lost in the tears we cried

for these dead and dying years

I can feel your heart beat running

I know we're not home yet honey

but let your hopes outweigh your fears

because I would never leave you

I would never leave you

even in your pain

you are never alone

can you hear my heart beat

can you hear my heart beat

can you hear my heart beat

can you hear my heart beat

keep running

can you hear my heart beat keep running

can you hear my heart beat keep running

can you hear my heart beat keep running

can you hear my heart beat

I would never leave you

I would never leave you

even in your pain

you are never alone

I would never leave you

I would never leave you

even in your pain

you are never alone

you are never alone

never alone

you are never alone

* * *

The air begins to change that winter. One night I'm standing on my roof, looking at the waves, with my arms wrapped around myself. I lean against the wind with my eyes closed and pretend I have on that imaginary coat I created back in Seattle, but it doesn't help much against actual weather.

As I open my eyes, I notice the lights shimmering off the Oceanside Pier in the distance. I've stood on this roof countless times but never really noticed the way the lights dance through the ocean spray. And I don't know if I haven't been quite as aware of my surroundings until now or if something really is different, but I'm somehow breathing a little deeper and feeling more present than before, more here right now instead of trying to be someplace else.

The textured light glinting off the waves reminds me of the way rustling leaves look in autumn's windswept trees. I remember watching the leaves let loose from their branches a little over a year ago and wishing that I could let go of someday as easily as the trees were letting go of their leaves.

I don't know that I've already begun.

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