No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.
– John Donne, English metaphysical poet and preacher, from The Autumnal, The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose
Today is the first day of autumn, and although I had a wonderful, lazy, meandering, full summer, I look forward to everything autumn brings. I love the leaves changing color, the shifting slant of light in the mornings and early evenings, the slow sipping of pumpkin-spiced chai lattes, the ritual of decorating the house with pumpkins, the fall classic (post-season baseball), pulling out thick sweaters and scarves not seen since last winter, the quiet evenings in front of the fire, the beginning of the march of holidays that seem to come one after the other, leaving us breathless.
The seasons come and go. Now I have a freshman in high school and a daughter in sixth grade, her last year of elementary school. The weeks and weekends are stuffed with work, writing and reading, school, community and school meetings, extracurricular activities and sports for the kids and the accompanying chauffeuring that goes with many of these kid activities. I harken back to the time when the kids were in preschool and day care, and our autumn weekends were as wide open as a golden meadow. Little did we know that those days were numbered once sports and school overtook our lives.
I remember a Saturday in September when we drove two hours north to Hopland in Mendocino County because our neighbor told us it was a nice place to visit. The destination didn’t quite live up to the bucolic charm we’d been expecting, but I remember the warm sun, the light flickering in between the dancing leaves of the trees along the road, the leisurely drive, turning around and seeing the kids’ faces – full of wonder – as they wriggled in their car seats. Car seats.
We checked out Real Goods, the Solar Living Institute’s storefront, and bought lunch at a main street deli and ate it amid a strip of turn-of-the-century buildings. I remembered feeling like we were in the wild, wild west, and at any moment tumbleweeds would mix in with the falling leaves. As we returned home, the kids nodding off to sleep in the back of the car, I thought, we’ll have to do another fall drive to another small, quaint town. Of course, we never did.
Each season, then, becomes more important, more urgent. This is clear to me as I watch Isabella find the perfect spot around the house for each glass, resin, and paper mache pumpkin that she pulls out from the plastic tub marked “Fall decorations,” which I hauled from the attic. She carefully sets the porcelain characters around the Department 56 Sleepy Hollow village atop our living room television armoire. Soon we will pull down the tub marked “Halloween decorations” and discuss which artistic designs the kids will want David to carve for their pumpkins. Our sun-damaged plastic skeleton is hanging by a thread, but still the kids insist on having David tie it to the bistro chair and table on our front balcony.
The ginkgo tree, which we planted in the backyard when Jacob was a baby, is slowly rising above the protection and warmth of the surrounding homes. Soon the cold night air will turn the leaves golden in November, not December. Isabella and I will gather leaves to put in the clear glass pumpkin that sits on the kitchen sideboard. We switch off hosting Thanksgiving dinner with David’s sister, and this year, we play host. Jacob and Isabella are looking forward to seeing their cousins, especially their older cousin, Nick. “We have to see cousin Joshua, cousin Nick, and Grant,” they both insist to me with urgency, “because we won’t see them when they go away to college.” It startles me, this urgency that they feel, an urgency reserved for adults, for adults who get nostalgic when the seasons change.
Jacob hasn’t been trick-or-treating in years, and this is Isabella’s last year, with sixth grade being our milestone for the end of that childhood custom. I’m grateful that the kids still willingly partake in autumn traditions and enjoy the season as much as I do. We can still plan an autumn drive to a quaint town and enjoy the turn of the leaves. There is still time, I tell myself, there is still time.