October 18, 2000

"What is up with this weather? Yick!"

I love autumn. That is reaffirmed for me every year as soon as the last dregs of summer fade. Of course, as soon as the flowers start to appear at winter's end, I will proclaim, just as loudly I'm sure, that I love spring. I must have driven everyone around me nuts this past spring, exclaiming over every flower, from the flats for sale outside the Bad Breisig florist to the orderly tulips in the Netherlands to riots of unchecked growing in private Cinque Terre gardens.

But it is autumn in San Francisco now, and I love it. I love the wind that messes my hair and lifts my cloak as I walk from the train station. I love the crispness of the air and the scent of moisture in it. I love the broken clouds skittering across the moon, casting the night in pale, flickering light. I love the proliferation of warm drinks, the ready acceptance of soup and stew, the shift to darker colors and bulky sweaters. This is the season for brisk walks, crunching fallen leaves (the few there are here), then retiring to a warm corner with a mug of cocoa or spiced wine and a blanket to wait for the sensation to creep back into chilled fingers and toes.

It is a season of retreat. Vitality shrinks away from the hints of winter, hiding away until spring's returning warmth lures it back. If you are patient, you can watch the retreating. The leaves fall from the trees so slowly that I fear I have missed it entirely this year. Those which are not evergreens already stand bare, their tangle of branches finally exposed.

Perhaps what I love best, perhaps the reason I love all the things I do about fall, is the sense of transition. Autumn is a season of change, of movement. This is the dithering period between summer and winter.

What a shock it would be to finish one day at the height of summer and begin the next in the deeps of winter! The plants would have had no readying period and likely would go all sickly soft and mushy with decay. Entire wardrobes would suddenly be beyond inappropriate and, without a fall shopping season, the rush of people to stores would probably decimate the economy. Wildlife would be caught unmigrated and without heavy fur. The instinctual hoarding evoked by fall and harvest time would have never materialized, and instead we would all be trapped in a season of scant supplies after our summer carelessness.

It's interesting that people have fallen so out of sync with the natural rhythms. The seasons change with the same regularity they always have, sometimes treading lightly, sometimes heavily. Still we act as if a new season is a thing unseen before, expressing amazement and dismay as the sky clouds over and rain falls, marring the weekend car wash. We shiver rather than put on a sweater and cuss at the increase in the energy bill. Strawberries and watermelons give way to pumpkins and winter apples; we mourn the passing of the first without celebrating the arrival of the second.

What is so upsetting about the changing of seasons, about the fading of summer? Is it a reminder of Time's ceaseless march? Is it a fear of aging? Of changes we can't control? Of endings?

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