Best of All He Loved the Fall

Suddenly, it’s September and soon it will be autumn.

You may be thrilled. The humidity and heat of the summer have been brutal. You probably can’t wait for cooler days and the chance to wear your jeans again or even a sweater.

Fall can be lovely. The cooling temperatures and changing colors. Even as adults, it’s back-to-school season: new shoes, new clothes, new backpacks, and new books.

For many years, I had a recurring dream where it was the end of the school year and I had never attended my classes. I couldn’t find the rooms; I hadn’t done my assignments. An entire year went by and I had missed it. This is a classic stress dream. A nightmare, really. That’s what September feels like to me. If I’m not prepared, not on top of it from the beginning, I will miss it. I will fail. 

Ah, but the autumn leaves: the deep reds and golds of maples and oaks, newly fallen and soft, still malleable. Once, when I was living in L.A. and missing these jewels, a friend sent me a box filled with some from his home in Vermont. It was a wonderful surprise and I gleefully scattered them around me. Those leaves made me happy.  Most especially because I enjoyed them in the Southern California weather.

Maybe you love this season but for me, September is the beginning of the end. The end of summer, of relaxing days and sunshine. The countdown to Christmas begins. But first, Thanksgiving, and Halloween. So much to do. Too little time. So many deadlines.

The arrival of September puts me on edge. I’m reminded of all the things I didn’t do when the days lasted well through the evening and the things I will need to do as the evening creeps into the day. Just thinking about it makes me exhausted. Nothing about September is passive. September means work.

Our enjoyment of the seasons has a lot to do with our relationship to home. Our best relationships — with home as with people — are rooted in good times, times when we played, when laughter was spontaneous, and life felt easy and good.

What was the best season for you as a kid? Is it still your favorite season today? Is your favorite season connected to a place?

My favorite season is summer. I associate summer with Grama’s farm and my memories there are everything I still long for home to be: a small community and a big family, friends that drop by unexpectedly, big meals and a big kitchen, plenty of blue sky, green trees, and long sunsets, adventures on a whim, and an uncomplicated ease of being.

Some of these things you may associate with the fall and winter holidays: family, friends, big meals, and community…  But not me. Thanksgiving wasn’t a thing in my family. And Halloween? My parents ignored it.

If you jumped in piles of leaves as a kid or horsed around in the yard with a football and friends, or if dressing up for Halloween makes you happy, you probably love autumn. And I bet you love winter too. Skiing, sledding, and snowball fights, big sweaters and fires burning, decorating for the holidays, and a ton of extra baking.

Now I’m old enough to understand why my mom always let me and my sister bake the holiday cookies. I also relate to the year she boycotted a tree and declared she wasn’t decorating. My brother and I hung ornaments from the ficus plant instead.

I’m just not fond of winter. The agony of adolescence created an aversion that can’t be undone. For me, winter isn’t fun.

As the smallest in the family, I was the only one who could fit through the upstairs window to shovel the roof. The snow looked so fluffy that I decided to jump when I was done. Instead, it was hard and I was stuck up to my neck, unable to move. My brother had to shovel me out. This is funny in retrospect but at the time, not so much.

As a kid, winter meant trudging through snow carrying my saxophone, waiting at the bus stop as the sky turned dark, and stomping my feet unable to feel my toes. It was buses running late, filled like sardines, and smelling of damp clothes. And then still more blocks to walk before I got home.

Winter is heavy with sweaters and coats, the endless layers that come on and go off.  It’s the wet gloves, sodden shoes, and damp boots that haven’t quite dried before you have to put them on again. Winter takes stamina as well as too much space. It makes my house cluttered and dirty: the overcoats and accouterments, the shovels and scrapers and salt, as well as extra rugs by each door.

I really only have three fun memories of winter as a kid. Four if you count the time I was with my brother and he took us into a candy shop in the Loop as we waited for our next city bus. But even that memory contains cold winds, a darkening night, and some anxiety. I associate it fondly with my brother but not with the season. That leaves only three good snow times for an entire childhood. The rest is drudgery.

I wish Christmas was every two years instead of every twelve months. And please, don’t call me a scrooge. What I love is the peacefulness of the nights, the candles and lights, the soft and sacred music, even the quiet stillness of freshly fallen snow. These things are magical. But everything else takes so much energy and so much time to prepare. Wouldn’t it be lovely if Christmas was every two years? Maybe then I could get more excited. Maybe then I wouldn’t dread September so much.

But here we are. My favorite season is over. Now I look forward to spring, the season of promise: when the cold days taper off and warm days begin to linger. New life, budding flowers, and green grass. Rivers flowing, lakes thawing. Longer days.

I know that work needs to be done in order to enjoy my favorite seasons when they come. Now is the time of preparation and planning; planting the seeds that will pop through the ground in another six months and then, eventually, blossom. Autumn is necessary. I pray for the clarity and energy that will make this cool and blustery season a good one.

Photo credit: Jan Peppler

Fall, Leaves, Fall by Emily Brontë

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

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