Autumn and Spring are the transitions between Summer and Winter, and Winter and Summer. The Earth changes modes, switches sides. After a long winter of heavy clouds and cold and mud we look eagerly to the first glimpses of the crocus and the snow drop, a hint of green beneath the winter-brown of dead lawns, and buds appearing on the trees. We celebrate the return of energetic robins and other birds and mark lengthening days.
For some reason, I prefer marking the signs of Autumn. It is reversal of the buds and the blooms. These are the closing rituals, not the opening ceremonies. The days shorten, and as our hemisphere turns its face away from the sun, the chemicals in leaves burst with color. My favorite sign is the wave upon wave of monarch butterflies that sweep through parts of the country, and stop for nourishment in the gardens of the Midwest and the Plains through October on their journey to Mexico and warmth. They are difficult to photograph, these magnificent, busy creatures. They fly south, not much bigger than burnt-orange leaves on the wind. Overhead geese, ducks, and other birds begin their flights, too. But the cardinals and the robins and the jays stay. There is no sight quite as comforting as a cardinal in the winter, a shock of red in otherwise empty branches.
Autumn is mysterious and bittersweet. We hurry into the harvest, and we realize that we must also clean gutters or check the tires on the car. Where is the heavy coat and my special hat? We do not especially look forward to winter, but know it is a vital part of the cycle, the other side of the coin. And what a mercy it is that Autumn gives us time to transition to the loss of time, the fading light, the cold. Cool evenings are a relief after the hot, sticky days of summer, although I must say that this is the first time in recent memory when the grass hasn’t been parched and browned by August. And this September our irises mistook the change for spring and have been blooming all month.
I also wonder why we seem to prefer calling the season “Fall” rather than “Autumn.” Perhaps it is a classic case of the simple winning out over the complex – Old English versus Latinate. Fall is a visual word: the leaves falling, the sunlight fading, “fall back,” an axe splitting wood. “Autumn” offers the abstract: flavors and colors… cravings of pumpkin and apple, orange and red – hints of spice and fire. Both words are correct. Both bring a sense of change, of focus. Now that summer is gone, I can breathe again… stop worrying about mosquitoes and sunscreen, sweating on the walk to work, the electric bill. New distractions. New wonders. Dark as it gets now, I love writing by lamp light, lighting candles, and seeing the reassuring flicker of fire in a globe.
And I think, if I can keep my windows open for a few more weeks, it’d be heaven.