Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I Love the Fall

I love the fall. I love fall food: apple cider doughnuts, chili, warm bread from the oven, hearty soups. I love the sweaters and layers and hats of fall. I love the smell of the summer winding down and starting to decay. I love the frost in the mornings and puffs of visible breath at night. My three favorite holidays are in the fall: Halloween, Thanksgiving and my birthday. I love the word "autumn". I love a toasty warm fire in the wood stove to take the edge off the evening chill. I love the early nightfalls, made for cuddling. Fall is my "energy season". I cook more, write more, knit more, make more. Albert Camus said "Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower." These flower-leaves are my favorite thing about the fall. 

I grew up in northern Vermont. As a child, I always thought it was a little bit silly that people would drive from all over the country just to come and look at our trees. Once a year, my dad would load us all into the car and we'd just drive. Out through the hills and small villages. Not to anywhere in particular, just winding around getting lost in the brilliant patchwork of a New England autumn. I wish I could say honestly that it was a time of magical wonder and idyllic family bonding; but at the time I think a lot of the focus (in the back seat, anyway) was on whose legs were in the wrong foot well, whose breath smelled, who was chewing too loudly, who might get carsick and who got to sit by the window - not for the view, but for the position of power it seemed to convey. Like most children do, I took it for granted. Of course it was beautiful. What was the big deal? It happened every year.

As a somewhat larger child now, I find myself living in a city of many trees. We have a long, slow autumn. As if on a secret cue given by school buses and eraser dust, the trees begin to change their clothes. One variety at a time, each with their own signature colors. The maples begin with the reds of fire engines, lipstick, clown hair. The alders blush a faded orange. The beeches trade their leaves for pennies, winking in the sun. A tree near our house is my favorite - a lime green to yellow, almost fluorescent. Bit by bit, they all don their ball gowns and jewels for their final curtain call for the year: tourmaline, garnet, amethyst, ruby, topaz, alexandrite, tiger eye. They swish on the sidewalks to the opalescent flashes of autumn sunshine, gracefully nodding and fluttering waves. 

I go about my business. I walk the kids to school. I go to the grocery store, the library, the bank. I trip through my days, spilling coffee as I organize, make lists in my head, clean up messes, fold clothes. I pack lunches, find shoes, answer countless nonsensical questions, check homework, retrieve library books, make dinner. Somehow I still find myself concerned with whose legs are in the wrong foot well, whose breath smells, who's chewing too loudly, who might get carsick and who gets to sit by the window. 

This time of year, the easy, torpid pace of summer picks up with the breeze and we find ourselves always en route somewhere. How many days have I hurried small, dragging feet through the freshly fallen leaves, seeing nothing but the minutes ticking toward the late bell at school? How many times have I driven the same routes, staring only at the red light making us wait instead of the red leaves waving along the street? How many times have I seen only the smudge of chocolate instead of the soft cheek that held it? How many times have I only half listened to rambling, imaginative story while I balanced the checkbook in my head? How many times have I tugged, wishing they would hurry up, without savoring the feel of small hands, so trusting, so sweet in mine?

I can no longer be mistaken for the child piled in the back of that station wagon. I recognize the fragile, ephemeral beauty of the autumn leaves. I understand my father's wish to just drive and soak it in; to fill the senses with the majesty of it while we still could. I know that there is no guarantee of next year. But still, like that child, I take the beauty that surrounds me for granted. Of course they're beautiful. What's the big deal? The thing is, they won't always be there next year. Not in the same way. Our seasons will change and their lives will move forward and will I have spent this time - this sparkling, colorful, fragile, ephemeral time - focused on petty squabbles and daily minutiae? Will I take this beauty for granted? Or will I take the time to really see my life around me - the bright eyes, the crooked, gap-toothed smiles, the messes that mean that there are little people alive and curious around me, the growing bellies that need to be filled with good food? All of that, like the glowing leaves, won't be around for long, but they're here today. I think today I'll leave the tussling and griping to the back seat of that station wagon all those years ago and lift my head up, out of myself, and savor the view.


Thanks for reading and taking the time to say hello!