What is it about fall that makes a person feel all warm inside? Is it the oversized sweaters and the knitted wool hats? Or the return of fleece-lined boots after months of hard soled flip-flops? Perhaps it’s the spice added to coffee and the pumpkin added to everything else. Maybe it’s the expertly stacked woodpile out back, a symbol of a summer devoted to splitting and sweating for the promise of quiet nights in December gathered in front of a crackling fire. More than likely, it’s all of these things that make a person want to throw on a hoodie, grab a thermos of hot cocoa, and jump on the back of a hay wagon with ten of their closest friends.
Growing up in the Midwest, the season that brings tailgates and trick-or-treaters was always associated with the great outdoors. It is the time of year when most men (and some women) load up their trucks and head north for “Deer Camp.” When I think of the fall I think of my Dad in his red and black flannel, standing in the doorway of our tiny warm home, beckoning for my little sister and I to slip on our boots and come outside to see the eight-point that he brought home from the property. My mom would take a break from preparing a hearty stew on the stove, throw on another of my dad’s flannels, and make her way outside to take pictures of the three of us holding up the antlers, another one for the family scrapbook. Pretty soon we would hear the familiar crunching sound of truck tires on the driveway rocks as, one by one, my uncles would return from cool nights spent in tree stands to swap stories and weigh in on whether or not this one would “make it into the record books.” On nights like these, I would lie awake in bed listening through my open window to the dull murmurs of the men still gathered outside, reliving the hunt that allowed them to provide food for their families and reconnect with their ancestors.
Yes, fall is meant to be enjoyed outside. Weekend plans revolve around trips to apple orchards and pumpkin patches with obligatory stops for white powdered donuts and warm apple cider. Preferred activities include corn mazes and hayrides, bonfires and backyard football. Layers are welcomed as the emphasis on a beach body gives way to a little extra room in the waistband reserved for holiday feasts. It’s not too hot to enjoy a full day in the autumn sun, not yet cold enough to warrant a parka. As Goldilocks once said, “It’s just right.”
There’s a certain “Last Hurrah” feeling about fall. We know that soon the snow will fly and we will be forced to hibernate inside under down comforters and electric blankets. Our windows will be shut to the harsh winter winds, and pumpkin pie candles will be swapped out for cinnamon and pine. Red and green will replace orange as the favored color of décor and scarecrow figurines will vacate their places on the mantle to make way for snowmen and Santa. Ceramic cornucopias will be wrapped delicately in newspaper and packed away in bins to be stored in the basement until next year.
We know this. We know that the sweet spot of seasons only lasts for a few splendid months—so we live it up while we still can. We throw vests on our babies and plunk them down in leaf piles as high as the swing set. We walk the five blocks home from the football game instead of driving, hand in hand with our sweetheart, warmed by the love of two weeks or twenty-two years. We sit on our front porch swing, wrapped in a quilt with both hands curled around a warm mug of spiced coffee and stare out at the bright orange sun sitting low in the western sky. We admire the farmer who continues his rows, trying to squeeze out the last drops of light before calling it a day.
No doubt about it, fall is a season to be savored. It is a time to live in the moment and enjoy the beauty of life all around us. And as much as we might wish to live in a world of endless autumns, it’s the juxtaposition of the seasons that make the big picture so remarkable. Besides, would the relief of cool air feel as refreshing without the relentless heat of the summer to compare? Would the renewal of spring be as beautiful without the contrast of the barren winter tundra? Would the joyous moments of life be as powerful without the experience of more tumultuous times? To everything there is a season—so open the windows and breathe deeply.
(This essay is also published in my weekly "Layin' Down Roots" column in The Berrien County Record. To subscribe to The Berrien County Record visit bcrnews.net)