A Meditation on Autumn


Some people like Spring. I think Spring is OK—bare trees burst into green, lining fields and streets (if you’re fortunate enough to live in a city with trees, that is).  And of course, Spring is the traditional dating/mating and/or birth season, when life bursts forth.  Spring is the season of weddings and proms and babies…and mosquitoes and horse flies and other good things.

Summer is pleasant, because you don’t have to wear much in the way of clothing (and neither does anyone else).  But it can get oppressive if you live in a place with humidity and if, like me, you loved school (something I never would have admitted at the time), Summer is boring.  There are days, weeks, months, when there’s either nothing to do, or you’re roped into someone else’s plan (work, if you’re an adult; a cross-country parental death march, if you’re a child).  Relationships that were heady and exciting in Spring can feel stale and constraining by the end of the Summer.

Winter is nice, because you can sit indoors and drink coffee of mulled cider in front of a fireplace; unlike Summer, where there’s a limit to how much you can remove in public or in private (skin is usually not removable), in Winter you just add another layer, whether it’s a sweater or a blanket.  It’s a time for duvets, and in no other season does bedtime feel quite as good.  On the other hand, precipitation in Winter isn’t self-clearing; it requires shovels and lifting and aspirin; sidewalks and roads are often slippery and dangerous; and the world can seem wrapped in monochrome.  The whiteness wears off.

Perhaps Autumn is the way it is because it’s a sort of compensation for Winter.  Where the latter brings monochrome, Fall brings color; trees on fire in the day, fading into morning mists, and leaves crunching underfoot in the night.  What falls from the sky is still self-clearing, and school has begun again.  If you’re a student, that means old friends and new and exciting people. New beginnings.  If you’re a parent, you get a break for the first time since June.  Stores are full of school supplies, many of which are merely things to buy and within the first few days, will be lost, broken, or stuffed into the back of home or school drawers (I have  a particular fondness in memory of “reinforcing rings”—tiny  gummed circles that you could [nobody that I knew of ever did] use to fix the holes in 3-ring binder pages that had torn—that and the smell of Sheaffer liquid pen ink).

I have one memory, from when I lived on Dorchester Avenue in Chicago, of walking out of the house I was living in and seeing beautiful golden and reddish leaves plastered by rain onto gray sidewalks and gray steps up and down the street, and feeling the cold air hitting my lungs and just feeling alive.

Fall is the season of New Beginnings.  And, in my opinion, October is the best part of Fall.  October brings with it things like Halloween and—if you were like me and attended a school that started in late September (as most “quarter” schools did, rather in than August, like most semester schools)—a little comfort with your neighborhood.  You know where to go to get an omelet and decent coffee when the cafeteria puts Okra Fugat on the menu.  You know where the laundromats are.  The bookstores and stationers and record shops (pardon the nostalgia).  Whether you shoot in black and white or color, you walk around with your phone or camera at the ready.

It’s not Winter, but there’s already woodsmoke on the air, if you’re lucky; it’s warm enough to require just a shell to deal with any rain or drizzles, but you wear your sweater underneath the shell.  It’s a time for bonfires and guitars (whose wood and tone appreciate the drier air); for long walks, kicking through the leaves under streetlights.  For warm bread with real butter.  When I was a kid, it was the time that you’d build a fire to burn the mounds of leaves you’d collected from your yard. While I recognize the problems associated with burning leaves, I hate the brown paper bags that now line our streets.

It’s a time to peruse the shelves of used bookstores, where cats stretch across the mystery table; for chili and quiches with friends.  Scarves begin to appear.

It’s a time to sit by a fire (or radiator) sipping tea (hot) or cider (hot or cold).  It’s the season of apples and squash.  It’s the fat time of the harvest, and of harvest festivals.  It’s a time for journals and fountain pens and espresso in small cafés.  A time of healing and reflection, of resolutions and hopes for the new year.  The time to spend hours with good books while thunderstorms paint the streets in watercolors and light.  For red wine and cigarettes or pipes, if you’re so inclined.  For Ray Bradbury.  For momentary melancholy surprised by joy.

So light a candle as the days grow shorter and cooler.  Fall tells you you’ve made it through another year and fills you with promise.  Celebrate October, curiously the tenth (rather than eighth) month of the year, and arm yourself against the coming Winter.  This is the best time to be alive.


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