So what is it about the summer that I just don’t love as much as the season that comes next—despite a beach vacation, garden vegetables, music festivals, more time with family and all the glories of the hot season? And don’t get me wrong. I’m big on all the clichés of summer. I love the smell of cut grass. I mean, who doesn’t? And fresh herbs outside my window? I could bathe in basil and wear marjoram perfume and never tire. The long days of light are magical, especially when I eat dinner at nine and still have time to go for a walk before the sky is all-the-way black. But there is something about the fall that gets me every time.
Let’s start with the practical issues. Like sweat vs. a cold nose. Give me a cold nose over pointless perspiration any time. (Pointless means you don’t exercise one iota and you are sopping wet.) I’ve never loved the sticky season. But as I’ve matured my body no longer can cool itself off. My internal thermostats behave randomly and hormonally, capricious and difficult in the extreme.
If the autumn weather proves nippy, however, the clever application of a cozy sweater, a throw blanket or a fleece robe and fuzzy slippers does the trick. Snap. Additional warming items include: cats draped across various body parts, a fire in the firepit, hot tea with honey and warm milk, flannel lined jeans, the company of a man who smolders at a high temperature. And so forth.
More practical concerns. Body image. Though fairly comfortable with my physical self in many ways, I am not a big fan of flaunting certain aspects of my imperfection. So I sort of HATE skimpy, low cut, sleeveless shirts that expose soft upper arms and the non-perfect neck.
The clothes of autumn are glorious. The layers of autumn include camisoles and gauzy shirts and flowing sweaters and silky scarves. In fact, a gorgeous pashmina strategically draped around the previously-mentioned neck does wonders for my sense of style and self-worth.
Take a hike in the summer and pray for death halfway to the summit. Take a hike in the fall and stand like a goddess at the top, pleasantly warm from exertion, glowing with health (not streaming with ghastly sweat), and the freshly picked apples are still cool in your pack. Sit reading a book in the summer and you either have to go into the air conditioning (which sucks) or you can’t turn the pages because they are damp with humidity, or you start to blister. Sit outside with a good book on a fall day, blanket over your lap, fleece zipped up tidily, and you can enjoy the sun for all it has to offer, instead of taking out a restraining order on it.
But to hell with all these profoundly practical reasons to love autumn. I am sure you are convinced already. But the real beauty of this season is its power to embody both endings and beginnings with grace. The rebirthing that takes place in the springtime is exquisite indeed. But it is the poignancy of autumn— things dying off while so much feels brand new. Even the flowers that bloom or simply linger deep into the season, like the cheerful mum or the effusive hydrangea, are eloquent reminders that goodbye must happen. The cooling of the air is the cooling that precedes every death. From abundant garden to heavy harvest to blackened stalks in mere weeks. The blanket of fallen leaves tries to warm the embittered soil of the final days, only to succumb at last to winds, rakes, bonfires and compost heaps.
During all this, the children return to school. People of all ages return to classrooms in elementary schools, high schools, colleges across the country and progress another year, another grade, which is about growth, anticipation, and blossoming. As the windows darken earlier and earlier in the day, minds re-engage.
I realize I am not objective, having been a teacher for so long. But I think a lot of folks would admit that they sense a reawakening with the start of school and the commencement of autumn. Lounging, poolside beer drinkers become coffee sipping multi-taskers, hanging their professional jackets on the backs of their professional desk chairs in offices across the nation. Sluggish baristas or grocery baggers become intellectually dynamic college juniors discussing the structure of philosophical argument, co-authoring physics papers with their professors or writing erudite rants about social anthropology’s latest theories. Tiny children in tiny sweatshirts explore the edges of playgrounds across the nation, searching for a stick in the shape of the letter Y, or maybe L. They are truly thrilled to be a step closer to the Promised Land called reading.
All this happens – eyes opening a little wider – as the Earth shuts its eyes for the impending winter. It is glorious!