illustration by Patrick Lowden
So it’s October.
If you’re anything like me, this realization fills you with an emotional hat trick of joy, relief and a sense of accomplishment. And if you’re not like me, hey, that’s okay — unless you’re a fan of winter, waiting on pins and needles for that first snowflake to drop, in which case I’m not sure we’re going to find a lot of common ground between us.
But fall! Autumn! Consider for a moment the multisensory experience provided by a simple pile of just-fallen leaves: The crispy crunch of dried foliage underfoot; the colors — earth tones — as yellows and reds and browns create ever-shifting palettes amidst their crush; the smell that, despite a creeping chill in the air, somehow feels cozy. Or how about that first morning you realize you need a jacket for the morning commute? Oh, and sweaters — man, do I love sweaters. Ah, cider!
Now I understand that maybe I sound a bit overeager to greet autumn’s nippy embrace, and if you despise fall, this article is probably super obnoxious, but I don’t care. I don’t even care to acknowledge the most common complaint about fall: the rueful lament that harvest season seems to last only about a week anymore, racing from late-summer’s final, humid gasp to the aforementioned first snowflake in a time frame that just has to be shorter than those sepia-toned autumns of our collective youth. (Though I will posit this: Doesn’t everything happen faster for us now that the childish twinkle has faded from our eyes?)
And the second most common complaint? Yes, sure, it rains a lot, but what better excuse to light the season’s inaugural fire (even if it’s one of those electric kinds with the lightbulb flames) than the pelting patter of bone-chilling droplets? But, really, I’m just too busy Googling “pumpkin patches” to waste precious time on these dour conversations.
Of course, I’m not alone in my lusty appreciation for the cooler months. At the risk of comparing myself to literary greats — scribes who surely wouldn’t have made it past this piece’s lead paragraph — I’ll point out that William Blake wrote a whole poem to autumn (“To Autumn”) in which he sang fall’s praises, saying such things as, “The spirits of the air live in the smells of fruit.”
Walt Whitman’s exclamation-point-laden “A Carol of Harvest for 1867” makes my own enthusiasm for autumn seem like a forced half-smile, even if, in another poem (“When I Heard at the Close of the Day”) he accuses the season of having “ripe breath” (I think he meant it as a compliment).
And Robert Frost, that reliable old curmudgeon, drudges up the first complaint about autumn’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it timeframe in his poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” saying of the golden leaf he so admires, “But only so an hour./Then leaf subsides to leaf.”
Okay, so I guess the brevity of autumn — and more so its role as harbinger of the gray, lifeless season it precedes — is unavoidable. It bears discussion, even now, as Mr. Frost’s first green leaf just begins to turn gold.
Last month, I spied from our dining room window a red leaf perched in the stand of trees across the road. I called over my two daughters and pointed it out, asking, “What do you think that red leaf means?” I expected them to light up at our first observed sign of fall’s approach, evidencing a shared love of autumn, and then the younger, more literal of the pair replied, “The chlorophyll is dying.”
Fall, for all the cozy and pumpkin-spiced feelings it stirs up in our sweater-clad chests, does have a dark side: Autumn really is death incarnate. Those pretty, colored leaves are dying, just as grass goes dormant and corn stalks start to brown with decay. Halloween’s pumpkin, the one I’ll select so carefully from the thousands of other orange orbs dotting the patch, will be a moldy, rotting mess on my doorstep this time next month. Even if it lasts longer than a week, if the autumnal patchwork quilt manages its doomed cling a few extra days before a stiff wind denudes the spindly branches underneath, it’s still coming — they don’t call it “fall” for nothing. Those leaves have to drop.
And that’s okay. We need the chill of winter to reset the deciduous cycle, just as we need to stumble upon the first green plant shoot some early spring morning and feel summer’s sticky embrace on humid August nights.
Things need to change every once in a while, and even better if it happens on a reliable cycle that gives us something to look forward to. I don’t think I’d enjoy a year of Octobers, but I know that, in the dead of winter, I’ll dream about next year’s fall.
/ Rodney Wilson is a freelance writer who can still be found slumped over his laptop, rewriting a young adult novel and, as always, listening to Taylor Swift.