As many paeans as have already been written about the glories of autumn, it’s my favorite season, and I’m going to indulge myself. After all, I set this blog up to be a mirror of my thoughts at any given moment, and I don’t incessantly dwell on current events, just dismayingly often.
I’m a faithful follower of Garrison Keillor, and I’m envious of his writing skills. He does “folksy” well enough to get away with it, especially as there’s always some little jab or snark embedded among the homely tales of his family, friends, and neighbors. In the last six months or so, however, I’ve vacillated between serenity and indignation as I’ve read his posts. He rolls along, extolling the virtues of holing up in his apartment, watching the world go by. His wife bakes, he communicates with friends via Zoom, and nary a ripple disturbs the peacefulness. His tone is rather superior when he relates that when he speaks with people close to him, no one ever breathes a word about politics or other stressful subjects. He likewise refrains from touching on those topics during such conversations. Sometimes I think, “It must be nice to be able to withdraw so completely. Most of us don’t have that luxury, because what happens in the coming months will directly affect our middle- and lower-class lives too much for us to not pay attention and discuss what’s going on.” Other times, I’m simply grateful for Keillor’s departure from the strife of today; his prose is a haven. Such a dial-down can serve as a prescription for mental health.
Hence, this post that diverges from my usual commentary about recent headlines. My top-of-mind ruminations on this day are about the riotous, sensual, transitional period between late September and late December. Most of us just say, “fall.” “Autumn” seems too formal, somehow, for a season that involves intimate sensory overload of every kind. The mist over the lake, the brisk in the air, the astonishing, almost overwhelming colors — how can this not be everyone’s favorite time of year? Summer pales in comparison, winter is much more refined and austere, and spring is hope, but not fruition. Fall represents both the end and the beginning. Harvests are gathered and stored, the earth is put to rest as the nights lengthen and the temperature drops. But the new cycle begins: planning for next year, the prelude to another season of growing. In fact, in ancient times, the new year fell at the end of October, because that was when the last of the fruit was taken, the last grain was threshed, provisions were laid in, the old year was effectively finished. The annual round was completed, meaning that it was time for a new sequence to quietly begin.
Here in northeast Ohio, fall colors are usually at their peak around the second or third week of October, depending on how much rain has fallen in the previous several months. This year, the trees were still green well into the second week of October, with brilliant colors only appearing after about the fifteenth. Farther south, around the midline of the state, there is still a good percentage of green foliage as I write, on the 27th. Maximum breathtaking level won’t be reached for another week to ten days down there. Up north, though, the palette is stunning this year, more eye-popping than it has been for some time. As my husband said, “We don’t need Vermont! It couldn’t be more beautiful than it is here.”
We drove down I-77 to Cambridge last weekend, a distance of some 120 miles. The town is of historical importance, having been one of the glass-making centers of the country in the early 1900s. We stay at a nearby private campground, which provides both family-oriented amenities and campsites remote from the bustle of those group options. We settled in near the small lake and drank in the fall beauty on display. Again, not all the trees had changed color yet, and as the property boasts stands of evergreens, the landscape we saw was a magnificent feast for the eyes, dark, light, and brilliant. We experienced a full range of weather over the weekend as well, including a relatively rare fall thunderstorm, as the temperature dropped sharply from the warmth of the first evening we were there. But fall is all about rapid, quixotic changes.
The previous weekend, we’d gone to Amish country, about 45 minutes east of our Cleveland home. We stopped in at a favorite farm/nursery/general store, to see what they’d come up with this year for their harvest displays. We couldn’t even take it all in. Thousands of pumpkins and smaller gourds of every size, shape, and color, from deepest orange to green to yellow-striped to ghostly white. Piles of them, shelves of them, wagonloads of them. They combined with the bags and baskets of apples and the jugs of cider to perfectly define, “bounty.” Plenty on an astronomical scale. Judging by the number of cars in the parking lot, it was a good thing so much abundance was on hand for the customers. The scents of crunchy leaves and apple fritters made our visit into an experience, which tends to happen at all venues, whether natural or manmade, that celebrate fall.
Pumpkin spice may have become a thing, and may be ubiquitous from Labor Day to Thanksgiving in every possible form, but I say, “Give me all there is!” I’ll never tire of the soft russets, glowing oranges, lemon yellows, fiery reds, mahogany browns, and burnished coppers. I’m happy to walk miles of trails, scuffling through those crackling drifts as I go. The sharp, clear air is a gift. The fragrances of dry wood, crumbling brown leaves, and seasonal baking uplift me and satisfy completely. Fall feels like home.