Thursday, October 14, 2010

In Praise of Autumn

Growing up in southern Alabama, I had a very limited appreciation of the potential of autumn.  The time of cooler days and turning leaves seemed very brief, lasting from a muggy Halloween to a wet Thanksgiving.  I can remember throwing the football on Christmas day in shorts, just as I recall going to the beach on Valentine's Day.  The south Alabama seasons never deviated very far from the stock daily forecast:  "Warm and humid with a chance of an afternoon thunderstorm."

Fall or autumn as shown on television or in magazines was something that happened in Vermont, or somewhere equally remote, it seemed.  As anyone who has visited the Gulf Coast knows, heat and humidity are the defining factors behind the weather - most days of the year, there is a lot of both.  And the dominant color in the landscape is green, all year 'round.  Summer lasts a long time in that part of the world, and a year without a frost is not unusual.  I saw my first snow as a middle schooler, and can't ever remember spring being all that exciting of a season.  It was just a short, colorful, mild version of summer, in my memories.

I had friends in Mobile who moved there from Tennessee, and frequently, if not helpfully, complained about the climate.  Their description of a year on the Gulf Coast:  "There are two seasons here - summer and February."  Because that was the norm for me, I never realized I was missing anything.  However, since moving to Indiana in 1995, I have developed an appreciation for experiencing four distinct seasons in a year.  Of course, our dreary, bitter winters here in northern Indiana can be as bad in their way as the unrelenting damp, hot days down South.  But I'll take the cold and snow and ice and wind, because I so enjoy the transitional seasons which precede and follow our long winter.

Right now I can look out any window in my house and see a scene worthy of a postcard.  The colors of the leaves are a feast for the eyes.  With a dazzling sun and a clear blue sky, the endless variation in leaf color from green to yellow to red to brown seems to vibrate with wavelengths of energy.  I took a ride through the country yesterday morning just over the line in Michigan, and every half mile or so I'd think, "That's it!  That's the most brilliant color so far!"  Then around the next bend there would be another tree or burning bush or far-off colorful grove that would nearly take my breath away, and I'd think, "Oh, that color is even more amazing than the last one!"

In the coming weeks, I get to look forward to apple-picking, fall decorating, fires in the fireplace, bringing down the sweater box, trick-or-treaters, and hot toddies on the back porch. For a few more weeks I'll have lots of long, brisk morning walks, admiring the constant change of color in the neighborhood.  It seems even the air is a different color this time of year.  After the previous four sunless South Bend winters, I've learned to embrace all possible enjoyment before the north wind and Lake Michigan conspire to transform our landscape into a months-long study of grey and white.  

Before the sun retreats to it's low, distant winter angle, the grass fades, the leaves drop and the snow flies, I look forward to enjoying the season as much as possible.  And if you live in Baldwin County, Alabama, and you get to drive that stretch from the east end of the Causeway around the bend where it merges into the four-lane at I-10, there's a grove of trees on that bluff that used to be my favorite view of local fall color.  I'd love to see a picture of that grove in full color this year.  It only last a few days, but whether yours is a few days or a few months, I hope you enjoy your autumn as much as I do mine.

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