Autumnal Thoughts

Summer is officially over in North America.  As of about an hour ago, autumn has begun.

I was born and raised close enough to the equator that the change of seasons was very gradual, and leaves did not all at once drop their leaves.  Many trees stayed leafed throughout winter.  The seasons edged, blurred and bled into each other, with the exception of the monsoons.  The monsoons!  After the mad, crackling heat of summer, the great armada of clouds assembled in the sky and loosed the torrent upon us, as suddenly as a magician’s snap of the fingers.  The coming of the monsoons meant instant relief, an abrupt lifting of the spirits.

Here in North America the seasons change nearly as suddenly.  Autumn is one of my favorite times, because it is not so cold yet, and there is a stark beauty to it that I can perhaps appreciate better now that I am myself in the autumnal stage of life.  But it also comes with a kind of melancholy that can descend abruptly.  One is not gentled into autumn here.  Leaves turn color and fall very quickly, and temperatures drop, so once again we know the struggle of mind over mattress, the difficulty of getting out of a warm bed, the shock of bare toes on a cold floor.  After all these years here I am not quite used to the sudden onset of autumn, the abrupt drop of temperatures and spirits, the hint of winter’s breath around the corner.  The change is too soon, too cruel.  This child of the sub-tropics seems unable to get used to it, although in past years I have always muddled through to the point where the beauty of the fall season becomes apparent: the colors of the leaves fallen against the dark asphalt are startlingly brilliant, and at last one can behold the fractal beauty of bare branches against the sky.  Death is in the air, death of the year, death of the old.  There is no hint yet of the renewal that follows winter, only the apprehension of cold and snow, and the turning inward, the cocooning of thoughts and rooms and fragile beings against the coming chill.  The sun, always so faithfully high in the sky of the tropics, is a low, skulking, sullen being, ember rather than bright fire, reluctantly bathing us in unearthly, beautiful, inadequate light.

In the fall I want to start building my winter nest, my burrow where I could hibernate through the long cold, or at least sleep through most of it like the bears.  But I am not a bear, alas.  I am a human who must venture out, and work, and grade papers, and give exciting lectures, and have responsibilities that preclude a winter sleep.  I feel myself as crisp and fraught and solitary as the leaf still trembling on the tree-branch, filled with apprehensions about change and gravity.  Perhaps there is only hope in the unreliable wind, which might, while blowing me to oblivion, show me places I have not seen before.

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