This post originally appeared on my tinyletter, Where is my Mind?
Fall is my favorite season. It wasn’t always. I love swimming outdoors, so summers growing up were always my favorite, after long, cold winters spent swimming indoors. There was a freedom in the summer, too, being able to ride my bike everywhere, but especially the pool and the depanneur and the little movie theater near-ish to my house. You could ride the bus and metro all the way out to a baseball game in the summer, where tickets were cheap and plentiful. But mostly, especially, I would be at the pool. Not swimming, mostly, but hanging out between practices, between lessons, between games and competitions.
I may have one loved summers, but I can’t stand the heat, and especially the humidity. We lived by the water, so there was almost always a breeze that ran up and down our street, and if it got stifling hot, I could walk and just sit and read by the water, where it was cooler. My grandfather had a chalet up further north, where he was from before moving to the West Island, and we would spend not enough weekends up there, where the nights still got cold enough to require socks and sweaters and fires. The lake was cold, too, the trees tall, and the sun bright but not oppressive.
Maybe now, that I live in the South, what I appreciate about fall is that they remind me of those summer nights, cooler and darker and more alive. The summers in the South are heavy and oppressive; all pure heat and humidity and haze and (depending where you are) smog. It’s hard for me to breath, and the only place I feel good when I am outside is by an open body of water, preferably the ocean; the pools are too warm, too crowded, too thick and heavy themselves.
During the fall, everything becomes sharper – the sunsets, the landscapes, the trees against the sky. I drove into a sunset last night and the clouds were blue-grey, set ablaze from beneath from the sun going down. I could see every billow, every lovingly-formed round in the clouds, with shades of blue and deep mauve and grey. The sun was a clear ball of fire, kissing the clouds and the horizon. These are fall sunsets; early enough to drive into them in the evenings, still awake enough to appreciate them, with the air crisp enough to really see all the details. It is a Renaissance sunset, instead of an Impressionist one.
Even the water looks different in the fall. As I drive by the Potomac, it sparkles, the sun catching all of the peaks of the small waves from the wind. In other seasons it is either still, the air unmoving from the humidity, or brown, churned up by the heavy winds and rains. No, only in the fall does it sparkle, dance, crash happily. It reminds me of The Lake (which is what we called the chalet, the place my grandfather built with his own two hands alongside is two brothers, the place my mother and her sister would spend the entire summer with her cousin and mother and aunt and other family members); it reminds me of the lake water that sparkled clean and clear in the summer breeze and sun.
I find myself trying to distinguish between depression and simple melancholy. I said that I know how not to be depressed, but occasionally, I settle into melancholy because it feels familiar and comfortable, knowable. I find myself pulling back from friends, from family, from crowds, from obligation. I want to be alone, outside, reading or writing. I want to feel the sun on my face without immediately getting dehydrated from sweating so much. I want to feel warm, not scorched. I so rarely get to enjoy being just warm. I love hearing the wind, the leaves falling, the chattering animals, instead of the constant drone of insects that enjoy feasting on my blood, that cry out in the heat. The trees don’t move in the summer, and if they do, the air is too thick for the sound to travel.
But it makes sense to me that I would seek some solitude in the fall; this is the season growing up when I would return indoors to swim, to train. Summers were about spending as much time at the pool as possible without being in the water. Fall meant that for every moment you were at the pool, you were in the water, head down, swimming lap after lap after lap. For 2-4 hours a day, I would be underwater, hearing nothing but the rhythms of my arms, of my breathe, of my kick, muffled by the water.
I have also always enjoyed being cold. Everyone in my house would be bundled up and I would still be walking around in bare feet; socks are always the last thing I admit to needing to put on. I’ll be in a scarf and jacket but still in my sandals, or sockless in a pair of slip-on shoes. I like warming myself in the sun or by the fire pit or in a bath, rather than trying to stay cool in air-conditioning. There was such a small window for fall back home, almost no time to enjoy the temperature. Often, it would switch from summer immediately to winter. Trees would turn their leaves and then lose them within a week. You hair would start freezing as soon as you went outside after swim team during the sprint to your parents’ awaiting car, running with the heat blasting.
I do appreciate that fall is a longer affair here in the South, going so far as extending into January or February. We have had comfortably outdoor fires on New Year’s Even, spend Christmas Eve day at the beach, not swimming, but not uncomfortable walking the length of the shoreline. So I try to enjoy the extended fall weather, enjoying the slow turn of the trees from green to red to yellow to brown and then bare. I resist socks for as long as possible but relish breaking out my sweaters, my scarves, my shirts and dresses with sleeves, pants with legs.
Here, as well, spring feels like fall did back home; one day it is cool and comfortable and the next, well, the humidity is 100% and the mosquitoes have all come back to feast on me again. So I will enjoy my four or so months of fall before a cold (but really, honestly, not that cold) and dreary winter, followed by a blink of the spring and the long drag of summer. There is something so familiar about this time of year that I enjoy more than any other time.
Maybe its because it is my annual reminder that you can always slow down, rest, and change. It can take a while, but enjoy it.