Next Sunday is the autumnal equinox, the official beginning of fall, when day and night are nearly equal. One can already see the sun’s position in the sky changing and its effect on daylight. Soon too, the leaves will change from their verdant hues to vibrant shades of carmine, crimson, burnt orange, golden yellows and finally tawny browns before they fall to the ground.
Like most mothers, I’m sure Mother Nature doesn’t have a favorite season, yet I do, and it’s fall. I wrote the following in a post, Summer So Green, just a few weeks ago. It described why I enjoy living in the Midwest.
“Living in Wisconsin, our lives ebb and flow with the changing seasons, sometimes winter is unrelenting and it’s a struggle just to get out the door for our day-to-day lives. We are restored in the spring when the changing weather brings us hope and quells the itchiness of spring fever. Summer is our reward, a time for leisure and vacations. In the autumn we reap the harvest of the land and prepare for the long, cold nights again, the cycles of change repeated.”
Since I was a child, I looked forward to September, my favorite month. Back then it meant returning to school, and I was one of those rare children who counted down to the beginning of the new school year. I enjoyed everything about it from sharpening my school bus yellow number two pencils to the purchasing and staging of my school supplies: Pink Pearl eraser, notebooks, ruler, and pencil box or zipper pouch to keep the tools of my education.
Growing up my parents bought us new clothes as follows: Christmas meant pajamas and slippers, socks and underwear, and for the cold winter, mittens and scarves, often knitted by our blind Dutch great grandmother. Easter we’d get a spring coat and new dress, patent leather shoes and lacy socks, with white gloves and a clutch or white wicker purse and yes, I’m old enough, an Easter bonnet.
For Independence Day we’d get a new short set, often in patriotic colors with new tennis shoes — PF Flyers, or Red Ball Jets. But shopping for back to school was the mother lode of new outfits; we’d get blouses with Peter Pan collars, jumpers, skirts, and sweaters. If we had outgrown last year’s winter coat or jacket, it would be added to the shopping list.
Back to school meant meeting a new teacher and making new friends. Though I didn’t always feel confident and popular when I was a child, as I look back today as an adult, I realize I made friends easily and teachers always liked me. I was curious, enthusiastic, and often developed crushes on my young female teachers. When I was in middle school, the male teachers saw my potential as a babysitter, and knew my father who worked for the school. I had a thriving babysitting business. One of my male teachers, Mr. Rather, who worked construction in the summer and came back to school in the fall all tan and buff, who was the object of many schoolgirl crush, would tease me relentlessly, when on a Friday, he would ask in front of my classmates, “Linda, are you busy over the weekend, and could I pick you up for a Saturday night date (with his wife of course)?” The girls would giggle, the boys would laugh and I’d blush, though I loved the attention.
Now as an adult, I still make plans as if I was returning to school, I sign-up for classes or make a commitment to a new group or activity. When my budget allows, I shop for new clothes to refresh my wardrobe. For the past few years, I schedule a week’s “staycation” in September so I can enjoy the last days of summer and those sweet, mild, early fall days when the temperature breaks 70 degrees and the evenings require a sweater or jacket. When walking at night after dinner, one can begin to smell the fireplaces in the neighborhood and in the country, leaves burning, like a kind of incense.
In the Midwest, we also reap the harvest and bounty of the season: apples and cider, pumpkins and peppers, all the canned preserves and pickled relishes of our Northern European heritage, farm-raised meats, both fresh and smoked, cheeses and baked goods and in Madison, available each week at our Farmers Market on the Capitol Square.
Since the weather changed here overnight from highs in the 80s earlier in the week to yesterday’s high of sixty and the evening temps dipped from the sixties to the forties, I decided to make my first batch of chili for the season, for me the first sign of fall. It was a beautiful day to visit the market. Dane County has one of the largest and most renowned Farmer’s Market in the nation. Award-winning, locavore chefs pull their red wagons and fill them with the ingredients for the menu they design based on what the market offers and their culinary ingenuity designs.
I’m not a chef, simply a home cook, yet I make a pretty good chili and today sweet red peppers and jalapenos from the market made the list of ingredients. I also stocked up on my favorite Berry Basket Jam filled with blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, grown and prepared by the Summer Kitchen from Highland, Wisconsin, plus I added dark amber maple syrup from Little Creek Maple Bush, neighbors in Highland to my tote.
Finally, I stopped by one of the vendors, The Bohemian Bauble, my sister Tami’s jewelry booth to find Tami, my niece Gemma and their loyal companion and guard dog, Topo Gigio, staffing. Crafts people, food carts, and artists stage their booths in a square across the street which surrounds Capitol Square, with others filtering down State Street, the pedestrian concourse mall that leads to the University of Wisconsin campus and the Memorial Union and Terrace.
There are mundane rituals too that happen this time of year, swapping out summer bedding for winter’s down comforters, and rediscovering that favorite jacket, sweater or sweatshirt to bundle up in after work or on the weekend — simple, comforting, seasonal rituals. Nesting urges grow, as we prepare to spend more time indoors, yet road trips to orchards and pumpkin patches and Sunday drives to see the changing trees are on the rise.
With the changing season, the cycle of holidays begins, leading into winter. Last year I wrote this poem inspired by a journal entry:
The Solace of Ritual
“There is comfort in repetition and wonder in change.” Journal entry, 9/23/12
September’s sun filters through blue translucence
day and night becoming equal.
Temperatures rise and fall like tides;
ebb and flow between dawn and twilight,
gears of my Circadian clock adjusting.
Nesting urges permeate my behavior.
I swap out summer for winter bedding,
prepare for long nights and cold days.
Cupboards are filled as I squirrel away provisions.
I can smell leaves and home fires burning.
The changing season, trees ablaze,
transformation before dormancy, so begins
the hibernation of winter.
Golden, auburn, crimson, tawny shades of brown
fade to a grayscale palette.
I can hear the crisp sounds of leaves
dancing on sidewalks, and the wind begin to whistle.
Soon the swan song of September surrenders
to a calendar of holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving,
Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day and the New Year.
Memories recycle of seasons past
of people absent and places far away.
I soothe myself with the solace of ritual.
There is comfort in repetition
and wonder in change.
Additional Reading from Mixed Metaphors, Oh My!
Another musing on the changing of the seasons:
A poetry chapbook by the same title: