The Crispness of Autumn

On this, the last day of September, the early signs of autumn already show themselves: The air is a bit cooler, the sun looks weaker, the leaves begin to show their final colors.

I love the fall. I like the transition to sweater weather, the promise of the upcoming holiday seasons, the fun of cider-and-donut season, the simple joy of Halloween. It’s a reminder to slow down, to enjoy what’s left while it’s still here.

As much as I disdain birthdays, my mid-September birth marks the beginning of an action-packed period that stretches until the new year. From mid September until Halloween, the name of the game is seasonal change. From Halloween until Thanksgiving, it’s “preparation for winter.” Thanksgiving to Christmas is a magical time of anticipation. Christmas to New Year’s prompts thoughts of annual renewal.

Of course, January 2 heralds the long, desolate slog until spring.

The scene from the coffee-shop window amuses. I see, for example, guys walking down the street together; one’s in shorts and a tank top, the other wears jeans, a shirt and a pullover fleece. Only in Michigan can both get-ups be equally acceptable simultaneously.

In any case, I’m taking today off to relax a bit. Perhaps I’ll retreat to the veranda for a cigar and a glass of wine. After all, autumn’s nigh — savor it while it lasts.

Autumn Returns

The air chilled yesterday, enough to encourage me to build the first fire of the season. The dried ash logs burned slowly and cleanly; the flames danced across the living room as the popping wood randomly punctuated my nocturnal musings. The glass of Bunnahabbain — neat, double — helped.

I awoke to a bedroom cold enough to numb my fingers as I checked messages on my phone. I live in a century-old house in the South Hill neighborhood — and my bedroom probably used to be a solarium:  Large windows along the front and back, French doors leading into the living room and another set to the three-season porch, a huge brick fireplace along the outer wall, and burnt orange terra-cotta floor tiles with no basement beneath. It gets cold in there. Delightfully, wickedly cold.

The leaves are just beginning to turn. I’ve pulled out the sweaters and fetched the blankets from the closet and washed my house coat.

I love autumn. The season prompts fond memories of my childhood — of harvesting grapes and apples and corn with my grandfather, of trick-or-treating with Steven and the gang, of burning leaves in the back yard, of closing the pool and making sure we had enough sawdust and hay for the horses for the winter, of getting ready for the massive Thanksgiving feast prepared by my grandmother that served as the official kick-off to the extended holiday season.

Autumn tugs at the corners of your soul, nagging you to recollect yourself and prepare for the summer to come. The die-off of foliage and insects directs one’s thoughts to Last Things, a seasonal counterpoint to the new spring of hope that arrives in Michigan every April. Marks a perfect opportunity to sit in the waning sun with Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life. Preferably with a glass of port and the time to practice lectio divina.

Humans need seasonality. One benefit of being Catholic and residing in Michigan is that both physically and spiritually, the annual calendar divides into defined periods of rebirth (spring/Easter), living (summer/ordinary time), reflecting (autumn/Advent) and preparing to do it all again (winter/Christmas/Lent). The liturgical calendar and the weather collaborate to interrupt the monotony of daily life.

October has, by happy coincidence, turned into my Deciding Month these last few years. It’s my time to think about what I want the new year to bring, and to lay the framework for how I’m going to make it happen. Some years, the planning is more effective than others — 2011 was a happy year, thanks to more prudent planning in 2010 — but the thought of using the winter months to put your head down and do the heavy lifting to be ready to flower the following spring makes a lot of sense to me.  Magical thinking though it may be, the prospect of emerging from a cocoon in the spring as a new, improved person exerts a powerful tug on my imagination. But the metamorphosis occurs during the hard, quiet work of winter — time to improve yourself on the sly while focusing outwardly on the relentless progression of Things to Celebrate that punctuate the frigid months like the tolling of a bell.

Autumn has returned. Hallelujah.