Seattle has traded in her summer dress for the layered look. She wears a billowy grey shawl of fog over a thick sweater of downy skies. She has shed the sunburned brown grass of August for a last gasp of emerald fabric and her hair drips from beneath the rainsoaked cap of her tree’s golden and crimson leaves. Her mood is soporific when she rises, giving way to a cool sharpness by noon. As evening approaches, her eyes turn dark and heavy, she pulls her toes back from the receding tide of her shoreline. It is a time for gathering wood and considering titles for winter nights. I am compelled to make pot after pot of broth from the last few garden treasures and bones from the spring lambs.
But fall is my absolute favorite time of year. Spring follows closely on its heels, but it has everything over summer. It begs me to languish in its brief visit before the claws of winter grasp it away. I lose all track of projects and wish only to wander, taking in its display. I get nostalgic in fall. I am given to grand indulgences in these months. It seems to arrive purely at my behest, I feel nearly solipsistic. I am reminded to dwell on things that remind me of love.
My mother pulling fragrant trays of roasted pumpkin seeds from the oven while my sisters and I bend over toothy jack-o-lanterns at a kitchen table heaped with pungent stringy pumpkin guts. Our black cockapoo rests his curly chin on the edge of my chair, ever hopeful black eyes shining and pink tongue lolling.
The warmth of my sister’s mittened hand coaxing me along from neighbor to neighbor, my pillow case growing heavier with each gift of waxy lips or black and white taffy in its pretty wrapper. Our siamese cat lying curled on the porch bench when we arrive home loaded down with loot, our eyelashes damp from the inevitable first few snowflakes that a Michigan halloween always seems to usher in. Her small head lifting to sniff the air with indifference, rising in a slow stretch to follow us inside and wander between us, her body bending around our legs, engine purring, smokey brown tail curling around us like a snake. Candy strewn across the living room floor, bartering and begging for our favorites while our mother sits nearby mooning over a cup of tea, looking for signs of danger amongst the sweets and swiping the occasional tootsie roll.
Raking leaves into tidy piles only to dash through them with my childhood friend Tammy and her delicate white Eskimo dog Taffy. Laying on our backs as the pretty red maple and the veiny yellow sycamore leaves float down around us, Taffy leaping and snapping at them.
Gathering beneath the bleachers during halftime at a high school football game. The smell of an old fashioned donut and the warm steam rising off the cup of apple cider my father buys for me and my friends from the Kiwanis booth. His way of innocuously checking in on us before watching the rest of the game from his high perch in the bleachers and then sneaking out to the parking lot to warm up the old Ford pick-up at the end of fourth quarter. His tall shadow sitting there in the cab, the smoldering end of his cigarette visible out the window, his other hand resting on the back of our German Shepherd, Sundance who refused to be left behind at home. Waiting watchfully, trading greetings with the other parents as they pass, letting me wander out with friends or later, bashful boyfriends nervously holding my hand. Climbing into the truck, the warmth of the cab enveloping me, our big eared dog resting between us on the bench, NPR cracklin on the AM station and my dad’s work-roughened steady hands drumming softly on the steering wheel, a song always dancing in his head and often on his lips.
Flag football in the leaf-littered courtyard behind my college freshman dorm, my roommate and I in long green and white scarves and tall hiking boots, laughter and screams as tackles turn into johnny piles. Riding our bikes along the banks of the Red Cedar river across campus and out to the school farms to work where the arabian horses trot along the fenceline with last spring’s foals still at their sides, their excited snorts sending frosty plumes of breath out ahead of them.
New England autumns of my late 20’s, the trees a literal fireworks celebration of photosynthesis. The boats along the Nantucket waterfront moored at their docks, twinkling lights strewn along their railings and riggings. Cool morning gallops out at Suffolk Downs, the horses sweat drying nearly instantly in the brisk air, the migrating ducks lifting off the infield pond on our approach. The fall breeze lifting their manes and dancing infront of my eyes, still teary at the corners from the speed of it.
Fall regattas, bare feet on cool wet dock planks. Shells resting just inches in the water with a shroud of fog meeting the surface. Blades cutting through the curtain of water and emerging, sun glancing off the dripping oar. And the coxswain crouched in the bow, his breath visible as he barks orders, the steam rising off of our cotton caps and bare shoulders. Spent, pulling to the dock and hoisting the shell onto wet shoulders. Back in the warm boathouse locker room, pulling on sweatpants and hoodies. The dogs are waiting in the car, two little terrier faces pressed into the window, little noseprint artwork adorning the glass. They know the cool down will include a three mile hike around Green Lake where the scents of morning runners with their dogs, goose shit and Seattle traffic from the I-90 will mingle into an enticing blend of snout filling ecstacy.
Autumn hunter paces, the riders red woolen coats and canary vests announcing the packs arrival over the hill. The hounds in full voice celebrating the clear air that carries the scent easily across the field to their hungry noses. The horses thundering behind, brushing the tops of the hedges as they leap skyward, nostrils wide, eyes set on the track ahead. Riders flush in the cheek from the cold air or perhaps the nip of port they had at the traditional stirrup cup at the starting line or more recently, from the flask at their side.
September apple picking trips with the family after church. The A-frame ladders resting against the silvery bark of the trees, branches heavy with Gravenstein, Macintosh and Golden Delicious. Our springer spaniel earthbound, staring up into the branches, barking frantically in concern for our safety, chasing the wormy apples we toss down to him.
October costume contests, tailgate parties, trips to the pumpkin patch and running through corn mazes. Popcorn balls, penny rolls and caramel apples. Forgetting to wear a warmer coat to the game and letting the junior from biology class put his around my shoulders. Changing weather signaling it’s time to pull out the horse’s blankets, start checking the nighttime temperature, waiting for the dew to dry before marching them impatiently out to their fields.
November in Japan, the hills ablaze in fall colors along the river in Arashiyama. Impossibly tall bamboo trees standing in near perfect symmetry as far and as high as the eye can travel, temples adorned in impossibly rich golds and reds from the surrounding gardens, the Japanese maples on display at the peak of their nearly obscene foliage. Hiking out to a Hindu temple in the countryside to catch a parade of elaborately costumed riders mounted on stout ponies in battle gear, running mock races and staged fights before a cheering crowd.
No Seattle, your drear and solemn contenance cannot lessen my love for the season. For I have a cornucopia of bright memories to shed light on your rainy dawns and your early sunsets. Your shrouded mountain, your pea soup skies are merely a curtain that part to reveal the start of my favorite show. You are one more character in this seasonal play of shifting light, changing color and festive dialogue, the melancholy middle sister of fecund spring and barren winter. The shortening of your days seems just, given the magnificence you offer up in your waning daylight hours.
You will soon march out your winter wardrobe with a chilly gaze and slink down the long, dim runway to spring. But this October day, standing in the front pasture outside my home in the fading afternoon sun, my hand resting on the thickening black coat of my gelding Osso, my cheek against his neck, the sound of him tearing at the fall grass lulling me like a metronome…I love this, I love this, I love this. And love conquers fall.