Who doesn't love summer and its long sleepy days, lemon-lime colors, and fun in the sun? How about hanging out at the beach or at backyard barbecues? Looser schedules harken back to the carefree spirit of childhood, right? I suppose when you look at it that way summer does sound like the peak of the year, the last bright point in a dull horizon.
I, on the other hand, am happy for it to be over with already. Enough lamenting for the last days of summer. Although it's easy to fall prey to the heavy feeling of regret that the best days are behind us, as far as I'm concerned they're not; I can't wait for the days ahead.
Don't misunderstand, I've savored plenty of my personal seasonal favorites -- sipping ice-cold lemonade, gathering fistfuls of fragrant basil, digging seashells from the sand. But I can't honestly profess any sense of loss that summer has finally ended. Finally. Oh, we'll have a few more hot days here and there. But now I can emerge from my air-conditioned world. Instead of wading through heavy, stale air, I can actually feel a breeze, a refreshing one at that. I suddenly find myself walking briskly in the fall -- not that pathetic trudge that overtakes me during the dog days. And don't even get me going about the frizz that makes me look as if my hair had been combed courtesy of a KitchenAid.
Autumn always has been the real time for my new beginnings. Granted there are no budding tulips and sense of incipient greenness; no New Year's resolutions, crammed so desperately with hopes for change. What has arrived are those crisp days from my New England youth. Fall is a fresh, clean page in a brand new notebook. It's shiny never-been-used pens and pencils. It's the excitement of starting a new grade in school. I've always enjoyed the rapid succession of holidays that proceeds from September.
Some of my most vivid childhood memories involve cutting out construction paper pumpkins and goblins, crafting turkeys from a hand print, tracing snowmen on crisp white vellum. I still feel overcome with a warm coziness when the first early snow begins to drift down, and even the city looks peaceful as the white blanket begins to settle around it.
Imiss the extra daylight as much as the next guy but there's something so ethereally beautiful about mid-afternoon in early October as the day fades into dusk. The light shimmers, casting a golden glow around the room. As autumn progresses, the leaves blaze. I anticipate those weeks all year, eagerly awaiting a time when I can contemplate the trees without shelter for fear that the unforgiving mid-year sun will bore a hole through my head. I can't resist shuffling my feet through mountains of leaves, falling into piles of them, saving the best ones.
As the leaves drift to the ground, my preschooler and I prowl the neighborhood, collecting castoffs from the thousands of sugar maple offspring decorating the streets.
The perfect ones are pressed to help us remember the day. Some we use as place cards for Thanksgiving dinner -- each beloved guest's spot marked by his name imprinted on a flaming leaf. Others are stowed away in a favorite book, to be admired whenever the memory of fall is too distant to call up easily.
I remember the joyousness I would feel as a child while playing outside when the day began to wane. As I approached my house, I could see the windowpanes' glow with the diminishing daylight. The air felt chilly against my cheek. And then I would step inside to the cozy warmth of home and the sweet smell of creamy hot chocolate waiting. When it's too hot to bake, I miss the smell of cinnamon wafting through the house on a Saturday afternoon. Or crisp sweet apples turned into a pie.
As I dig up all the dried brown dead things in the garden, replacing them with bronze and cranberry mums, I'll also put in some tulip and crocus bulbs for the spring. So that when I'm tired of the pathetic trudge through dirty snow, weary of the wind so cold it brings tears to my eyes, and sobered by the thought of eating yet another root vegetable, I can look forward to the dawning of new life pushing up through the cold earth. So that eventually I can enjoy the pleasure of key lime pie and a chaise longue on the screened-in porch. And so that then after that I can finally pull a fleecy sweater around me while I sip hot apple cider and gather up the last of the golden orange leaves.