September 22 marked the autumnal equinox, the start of my favorite time of year. The time when the days get shorter, the nights get longer and fall officially begins – apple picking, harvest moons, a slight chill in the air – what a great time to be alive! Time to pull out the sweaters, carve pumpkins and snuggle up to the campfire in the evenings. It’s a time of transition from the long, fast paced days of summer to the slower, simpler days of winter. It’s a feast for the eyes, as nature partakes in her most dazzling display of the year. The lush greens of summer are cast off in brilliant hues of gold, orange and red. Leaving behind the bare bones of winter, the remnants of God’s creation settling in for a long rest beneath a blanket of white, gathering strength for revival in the spring. It’s the natural order of things, the way things should be.
So, as in years past, I eagerly awaited autumn. I spent all of October waiting. At first I waited quite patiently, then I began to worry. November was approaching and still no fall. It wasn’t long before panic set in and I began searching in vain. I looked in all the usual places I look when something is misplaced – the back of the junk drawer, the top shelf in the hall closet, the bottom of my purse. But all I found were rolls of scotch tape, a 2012 Cabela’s catalog and my spare car key. Where the heck was autumn? What happened to the chilly air, the brilliant hues and the crisp fall apples? I trudged through my typical fall routine in hopes of finding it somewhere along the way – walks in the woods, apple picking, unpacking my winter wardrobe, a hayride to the pumpkin patch – but it was nowhere to be found. The woods were still green, the apples were bland, the sweaters were too warm and the pumpkins on my porch had not suffered through a single frost.
Finally, when November arrived there was no time left, the leaves simply had to come off the trees. And off they came, so quickly that I almost missed it. Sometime in the beginning of November, in the blink of an eye, the leaves changed color, dropped to the ground and that was it – it was over.
I managed to catch some of it in bits and pieces, here and there. A brief corridor of gold on a highway in upstate New York. A hike through our Missouri woods where a few brilliant embers still burned in the red of the Sumac leaves and an occasional white tail deer rooted around in the leaf litter, their coats thickening for the colder months ahead. In a last-ditch effort to seek out the remnants of fleeting fall colors, we took a trip down to southern Missouri and bid adieu to the final shades of autumn that were taking refuge in the Mingo swamp.
As autumn breathes her last breath of globally warmed air, I’m left feeling a little bewildered and out of sorts. I feel as if I have been cheated out of one of my most beloved childhood memories. I’m left pining for the autumns of my youth. The tastes and smells of Octobers past flood my mind – Taffy apples, pumpkin seeds, bags of Halloween candy, the pungent aroma of fallen leaves trapped and suspended in time on some long-lost breeze that has been stilled by the melancholy within my very soul. When I close my eyes, I can still imagine myself in my old neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, brightly colored leaves raked into perfect piles, prime for jumping; walking to school under a canopy of yellow and red, crushing the newly fallen leaves under my worn out Keds, my breath fogging up in the frosty morning air while friends intently discuss the most prosperous trick-or-treating route for the coming Halloween.
With a heavy heart, I continue to mourn my lost autumn. As I slowly progress through the five stages of grief, I look out my dining room window to see the final shreds of harvest gold whisked away on the southern breeze. While I let the healing process begin, I softly recite one of my favorite poems by Robert Frost..
Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nature’s first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
“Stay gold Ponyboy. Stay gold.”