Many of us associate fall or autumn with changes. Endings and beginnings. It happens around us and in us. Farm fields sprout those large orangey-colored things on which people love to carve scary faces. The green leaves of summer transform into an array of golds, browns, and reds. These colorful reminders of mortality then drop from or are blown off their branches to land on the ground, where they shrivel and crumble–but even then, they look beautiful. And the sound they make when you crunch them underfoot is one of our planet’s great gifts to us.
Children in America and in many other parts of the world start each new grade in late August or September. Every fall brings them new schools and teachers, new subjects and friends. Aside from family, school is the most influential and defining social institution in the life of a child.
Spend twelve or more critical formative years in which important things change at this time of year, and you’ll probably carry that perspective about fall into adulthood. The beginning of football season in September only reinforces those expectations that we’re entering a season of change. And in the Northern Hemisphere at least, that holds for all kinds of football, including the exciting front-yard battle pictured above that I came across yesterday.
Kathleen and I live in a leaf-peeping destination, and this fall we’ve drunk deeply of the spectacular colors in the Maine hills and mountains and along the coast. Maybe because I know that cold and snow are around the corner, I’ve felt an urgency to get out on the bicycle, in the kayak, and onto hiking trails.
This month, with workers replacing our no longer functional windows, it’s been a good time to do some day-tripping. Getting the work done this fall has resulted in the obvious and expected benefits, but it’s also served as a turning point in experiencing our adopted Maine. We’ve driven to parts of the state we’d not yet visited and have seen them in all their autumnal glory, spots like the one pictured below.
Sugar maples are not the only source of arresting color in the north country, with blueberry barrens and all manner of bushes providing those rich rusts and reds nearer the ground than the branches of the tall maples. And trips to Acadia National Park’s Schoodic Peninsula these last two weeks turned me loose on hilly bike trails that offered peeks at the blue, blue waters below. In Friday morning’s chill, I pretty much had this nook of Acadia National Park to myself. So quiet. Pedaling on those hills, the only sound I heard other than my tires was the ratchety-ratchety of my one-year-old mechanical knees.
Another summer gone. Falling leaves remind us of what else is gone in our lives. Kathleen and I have been thinking a lot about old schools, homes, family members, and friends—living and dead.
Some of our sweetest memories of Philadelphia’s Mt. Airy neighborhood land us right back on Chuck and Lindall Miller’s deck in their sukkah. Our friends three doors up the street generously included us in their Jewish celebrations. Sukkot was my favorite, and eating, talking, and laughing with them in what they made feel like a glorious tree-house at this harvest time of year will never leave us.
And I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky and gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold
And shivering trees are standing in a naked row
Autumn brings back remembered sounds. For decades, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell’s “Urge For Going” has served as a kind of autumn anthem for us and for lots of other folks.
I get the urge for going but I never seem to go
And I get the urge for going when the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down winter’s closing in
Those are some of the lyrics Tom Rush sings, slightly altered from the original. His fall weekend bookings at Bryn Mawr’s Main Point Coffeehouse always guaranteed a performance of Joni’s masterpiece, and here’s a link for Tom singing the evocative song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZfTqwbjwPc
Our fall rituals plunge us down memory lane, but as I’ve found this time around, they can point us ahead to new and good things too. So much about this time of year urges us on to new challenges and adventures. Some of them even turn out to be major turning points.
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Ned Bachus is the author of Open Admissions: What Teaching at Community College Taught Me About Learning (Wild River Books, 2017) and of the TURNING POINTS blog on nedbachus.com and on his OPEN ADMISSIONS Facebook Page. City of Brotherly Love (Fleur-de-Lis Books), his book of stories, was awarded the 2013 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction.