Autumn is a smell: woodsmoke, decaying leaves and cinnamon. It’s a color palette too: oranges, reds and browns. The color of the earth on fire. The air has an entirely different quality with a crisp snap in your nose and the way the low light glows now rather than shimmers, the sun never getting so very high. The tastes are no longer the green bite of spring shoots, or the sugary sweetness of summer corn, but the savory, earthy, more subtle flavors of mushrooms, root vegetables and gourds.
Daylight fading“Daylight Fading” by Counting Crows
Come and waste another year
All the anger and the eloquence are bleeding into fear
Moonlight creeping around the corners of our lawn
When we see the early signs that daylight’s fading
We leave just before it’s gone
When we were in school, it was the start of a new year. A change in temperament as much as temperature. But as life has become more fragile, and fraught with danger, it doesn’t seem as lighthearted with the promise of pumpkins and pilgrims, Charlie Brown and of large family meals.
We seem to be in the midst of a major shift, and it’s unclear when it started, where we are in the cycle, and when it will end. Are we at the beginning of a long uphill battle, or nearing the end? Our circadian rhythms are completely out of wack, as we don’t seem to know what time it is, or whether we are coming or going. We know only that daylight is fading; that the night is dark and full of terrors.
If spring is birth, summer life, and winter death, then fall is surely dying. It’s a way to mark the time I guess. Imagine if we did not have the means to note the passing of time. Light to dark, day to night, the change of seasons, the coming of the rains, the heat and cold. As it is, we barely seem to have the time to notice the passing of it. If it weren’t for absences, we wouldn’t even notice the aging of those around us, let alone ourselves. But when the daylight begins to fade and the nights grow cold, we know that winter is coming.
Most people do not claim to enjoy winter, but most do especially enjoy fall. It’s an altogether better season than Spring, which is all hype and no payoff. Spring is wet and cold and largely miserable, and then one day Summer just pops out, fully formed. There is no gradual introduction, no lead up. One day you’re wondering if it will ever get warm and the next you’re bitching about the heat. Fall is almost always a more gradual change. The days begin to get shorter, but there continue to be bursts of summer, warm days but without the intensity and length.
In beach communities like ours, we often refer to September as Local’s Summer because the tourists have largely returned to their own towns, leaving us with all the best parts of summer but without the throngs and the more oppressive heat and length of days. Often this period extends into October, but as climate change wrecks havoc on the planet, we now often sit in fear, wondering when the hurricane comes that wipes us off the map. Maybe not this year. Hopefully not this year.
There is very little guaranteed in this life. I am leaving in a few minutes to attend the funeral of my daughter’s mother-in-law. A women barely older than I, and very much alive the last time I saw her. She had plans that did not involve discovering pancreatic cancer six weeks ago. She did not plan to find her end at the kitchen table this fall. She had pirogies to make, and candy to give out. She had a home to decorate and dogs to attend to. She had grandchildren and loved ones to buy Christmas gifts for and stories to tell. She had stories to tell.
But that’s not always the life we are promised. We are not all apportioned the same number of days, or moments of joy. We have to fight for each one, and its a shame if we leave anything on the table at the end of the meal.
I have plans before the end. They are getting closer to home and not too far away on the calendar. Turkey and pumpkin pie. Hot apple cider and buttered rolls. A walks in the woods and the rustle of leaves at my feet. Geese calling instead of gulls. A fire crackling in the fireplace. A quilt on my knees and a book in my lap. I can’t get too much farther than that right now. I can’t see too far down the road.
“Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table,” writes the poet Joy Harjo, “while we are laughing and crying, eating the last sweet bite.”
Perhaps it will indeed.