22 September 2010

A Week Later . . . (Come hither, Autumn!)

I've heard that autumn doesn't arrive here in central Oklahoma until a week before Christmas. For someone who likes it cold, that is a depressing thought.

I welcome that first crisp day with the sky bright blue, cloudless, and the trees touched by the first change of color. A year ago, living in upstate New York, that first day was beautiful. A year before that, living in western New York, I also experienced that first day of autumn as a great relief to my senses.  After all, I had struggled through several months of heat and humidity--too much sweating, too much weight gain! That kind of weather forces me to downshift, trying to relax, keeping cool by not being active and living in the artificial A/C environment, drinking milkshakes and eating ice cream, just trying to stay comfortable. When autumn arrives, I awaken from hibernation and become active, start eating healthy food, and actually begin to feel alive again. It is a beautiful experience to awake to life once more.

In New York, however, the autumn did not last very long; winter came early. Last year the first snow fell (but did not stay on the ground) the last week of September. The biggest snow storm, which dumped 24 inches on us, came at the end of March. And even on Mother's Day in May, snow was filling the sky most of the morning. I like seeing snow fall; I do not like driving in snow.  My years in western Pennsylvania, among the hills and forests of the Alleganies, seemed the perfect balance between a too-hot summer and a too-snowy winter. There, I had four equal seasons; I felt in sync with the world.

Now, I'm not exactly the sort of person to jump into piles of leaves--especially if I spent time raking them into piles, nor am I obsessed with Halloween or pumpkins. However, the arrival of autumn signals to me that closure is coming. Throughout the spring and summer everything is growing, everything has potential, nothing has an end to it. That first nip of cool air in the morning gets my attention and lets me know that the end is coming. And that means I must hurry to finish whatever I may have started. I must refocus on achieving something, anything, before the circus of New Year resolutions arrives. Autumn is a time for reflection, for settling accounts, for adjusting expectations. Autumn is the time for accepting reality.  It is also the prime measure of my life: How many autumns have I experienced? Indeed, in anyone's life there are but a couple dozen autumns that are lived, remembered, and enjoyed. Others pass, certainly, but we are too young to recall them, too busy to enjoy them, too harried to live them as we might wish to. We notice--and fully appreciate--only a handful of autumns during a lifetime. When an autumn rolls to its end I feel a pang of regret at missed opportunities, at beauty faded, at a life yet unfulfilled.

As I look ahead from today, I see maybe 20 more autumns I can experience. But I also know that some of them will be rainy, others will find me kept inside working, or I might be busy and not get much opportunity to live in the season. I will see it passing and wish to stop what I am doing and go out and play in the season, but I will tell myself I have next year for that. Someday, I will be too old: I could see the signs of autumn outside my window, perhaps, and I might even persuade a nurse to open the window for me, but those will be my final touches of autumn. The end of my life will surely come with the end of the year, I feel. It seems symmetrical that way. I like having balance and, as John Keats wrote in his Ode to Autumn, ". . . with patient look, / Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours," I, too, shall watch with keen interest the fading light, the vast orange sky over the black gloaming landscape, and close my eyes slowly as the sun drowsily blinks shut on the last autumn night of my life.

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