Entering adulthood profoundly disrupted my sense of time. When I moved to Texas to begin grad school, the steady rhythm of spring, summer, autumn, winter--which I had enjoyed as a child in Indiana and as a student in Tennessee--gave way to a relentless cycle of summer, summer, spring, and more summer. That first fall, I was grieving in nearly every area of my life--personal, academic, spiritual--and the feeling that I was being denied a "proper autumn" was too much to bear. All through September, I sulked. I scoured the Internet for pictures of brilliant oak and maple foliage. I pretended the ridiculous air conditioning on campus was natural autumn air. Nor was I alone in my longing. Other northerners would sit with me in the break room, speaking wistfully of jackets and gloves. Even the Texans would join in, lamenting their state's lack of a leaf-glorious fall.
By October, these imagined autumns were beginning to taste gluttonous. The visions of leaf-covered paths had become a little too sweet, like cider boiled down to syrup. Even more troubling, the only place in Waco, Texas where I could find visible signs of the autumn I imagined were Walmart and Starbucks. They capitalized on autumnal sentimentality, offering plastic maple-leaf wreaths and artificial pumpkin drinks at a profit.
At first, I told myself that I was entitled to these autumn trappings for nostalgia's sake, if nothing else. "If Texas won't provide me with real foliage," I pouted, "I will buy my own and hang it on the door." But then, for some blessed reason, I put the wreath back and left the store.
For the rest of that first Texas fall, I tried to keep my eyes open for autumn--not the brilliant, tempestuous signs of my childhood, but some native sign of the year's slow turn. Soon, I had begun to notice so many beautiful things. In Texas, autumn didn't mean fierce winds and woolen hats: it meant opening the windows after a summer indoors; morning glories on the banks of the Brazos; and the return of the songbirds. It meant waiting for the day when the pecans fell, and you could gather rich nuts by the bag-full on nearly every street-corner, or along the Pecan Bottoms at Cameron Park. It meant planting winter gardens with swiss chard, collards, carrots, and cabbage; going to the Sorghum Festival; watching rain fall for the first time since spring.
Learning to watch for autumn as it came--rather than as I pined for it to come--was probably the wisest thing I could have done in that first homesick year. It taught me to love the place where I lived, rather than lamenting the places I had left behind.
|Autumn in Alabama|
I am still learning what autumn means here, in Alabama, on the edge of many waters. Last year it meant hurricane parties and open windows, wool berets and sandals, home-brewed iced chai, Shakespeare on campus and Farmers' Markets downtown, Japanese persimmons, front-porch talks, and satsuma oranges. Already the mornings grow cool, purple mums bloom instead of azaleas. As in Texas, it's time for winter gardens: bring the peppers in and plant the greens.
Imagined seasons and distant ideals have their place--a deep, inspiring, good place--but for travelers who feel far from home, there is so much grace is opening our eyes to the season we find ourselves in. Maybe the day calls for a silk shirt instead of a wool sweater. Maybe your yard is full of crepe-myrtle blossoms instead of orange oak leaves. Maybe so. For my part, while I will always treasure the northern autumns of my childhood, I hope that today I will have the courage to choose silk and crepe myrtles over air conditioning and plastic wreaths.