I’m starting to panic a little.
We are already halfway past the middle of October, and I have yet to see as many changing leaves, horror movies, or bowls of butternut squash soup on my table as I would prefer.
Many of us love the fall. But I think I have an obsession.
All year, I wait for it. I love all the seasons. The restorative calm and indoor comforts of the winter, with its books and hot teas and snowy transformations. The miraculous awakenings of spring, those little pale green buds pushing out, the meeting of old friends again, walking the streets. The seashore ice creams and sweaty outdoor freedoms of summer, where you want to just get in your car and drive with the radio turned to 11.
Yet the autumn is in its own category of awesomeness. When I am feeling down and tricked by the delusions of depression, and wondering why we continue to put our pants on every morning, I think about how much I want to see another October. When I eventually die, I will be ready to leave this planet and not look back. Yet, in my idea of nirvana, it is autumn in the Northeast six months out of the year.
When I first see the candy packages arrive in the grocery stores in early August, with the bats and witches and cartoon spooky mansions, my pulse races a bit. When I see the cheerful yellow school buses in September, when I smell the first wood smoke from a chimney, when I taste my first pumpkin flavored anything, when my boots touch the first crackly leaves on the ground, when I hear the change in the cricket’s rhythm, to a slower, more lonely cadence, I die a little with joy.
To pull on your boots for the first time, or your favorite jean jacket, to have conversations with your kids and their friends about their Halloween costume ideas, to decorate the house with ghosts and witches and jack-o-lanterns and skull-shaped candles, to feel that first crisp, chill wind wash over you after a summer of humidity and mosquitos—yes.
I sometimes watch the screensaver on my Roku of autumn mountains. I could stare at those scenes for an hour. Every single thing about the fall makes me happy. People seem smarter, more thoughtful, less annoying. The clear, sharp air feels more full of oxygen, of life.
I live in Southeast Pennsylvania, and our falls are perfect; even with global warming, they still manage to come around, at least for now. So I don’t take them for granted. Not one hour. I lived in New England, where they are so smug about their falls—yet they go too fast up there. Before you know it, it’s winter.
Everywhere I look, I see something to admire: the way the sunlight changes, the shadows become deeper, the light more amber, more sepia-tinged, like a photo from the 1970s. The way the trees, even those not a beautiful orange or red, become so varied on my drive to work, the subtle variations of brown and gray and lavender and yellow. Each falling, swirling leaf is a tiny poem about death and gratefulness.
I could write another 10 paragraphs about all the details of fall that I love. Yet I think those of us who love the fall also—perhaps subconsciously—enjoy it for deeper reasons.
For one, if you are hopelessly nostalgic like me, this is the season to cast your memories back. The past feels more connected to the present, somehow, and one can enjoy perusing the deep, varied, interwoven tapestry of their lives so far. While the summer is for being more empty-headed and full of action, enjoying your body and all that it can do, the fall feels more about the mind and the heart.
Everything feels more significant in the fall. Everything feels more weighted with meaning and depth. We feel the wonder of our lives, of each tiny moment, because we are being reminded of the transience of our existence. We are being reminded that everything will die. We are being reminded of our own deaths with every leaf slowly falling and twisting in the breeze, with every withering flower.
We are going from the light to the darkness. We scramble like squirrels gathering acorns of experience, of connection, before the dark night of the winter closes over us. We are nostalgic for the people we love, and the freedoms of longer days and bathing suit activities, even as we adapt with contentment to the charms of cozy nights on the couch with our favorite wool blanket over us, happily ensconced in our hibernative cave.
We are saying goodbye to nature, to color, to the sounds of birds and insects and people on the streets. We feel more love for all of this, because it is going away.
We are practicing both/and. We are practicing joyful sadness, loving life more than ever as the life of the natural world begins to disappear. We are practicing for our own deaths and of those we love.
Along with the mind and the heart, fall feels most of all like a spiritual season. To be spiritual is to be conscious, to be alive to all the nuances of yourself and the creation around you. The fact that the trees are most bright and beautiful as they are dying surely says something about the light of the spirit which transcends death. Ancient Druids believed the spirit world was closest to us in October, with the apex October 31st. Halloween also roughly marks the cross-quarter day, the midway point between the equinox and the solstice. We are in limbo between the dark and the light, just as we are always balancing the yin and yang of ourselves in the constant push-pull of existence.
Lao Tzu wrote, “The key to growth is the production of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness.” Autumn seems almost programmed by the universe to be a time of reflection and expansion of consciousness. When I look at a stretch of autumn trees from a good elevation, or hear the geese flying against the high blue sky, or feel the soft whistle of that chill wind inspiring me to zip my coat up higher, something intricate and poetically intelligent spreads its way through my consciousness. Like art, what I am experiencing cannot be fully translated into words. It is too subtle and complex. My self-awareness increases and my perceptions become like a totemic wolf’s, my spiritual ears attendant to things I can’t always hear as well.
Simply, in the fall, I feel more alive. I feel more alive as everything is dying around me. I want to grasp onto every piece of experience I can perceive. I, like Iggy Pop, am full of lust for life. I am aware of the brilliant and incredibly complicated machine that is my body and brain, and how I have been gifted with so many ways to observe and discern all that is around me and within me. I want to feel more, see more, experience more, be more.
October has always felt like the apogee of the fall, with the exclamation point of Halloween at the very end. On Halloween, we celebrate the strangeness of life. The chthonic gods and goddesses. The darkness and mystery and horror. The comic relief. We wear masks and explore different aspects of ourselves. For $20 worth of candy and a sheet with holes for eyes, we can participate. We have no need of religious beliefs, unless we are celebrating the new and concerning “Jesusween.” Every year, I take off work on Halloween. I don’t want to miss a school Halloween parade my kids are in. I don’t want to work. I want to be a kid again. I don’t want to miss a moment.
On All Soul’s Day, November 1st, I grieve a little. On the first day of October, my friend (another grown man who is also obsessed with the fall and Halloween) and I will send each other a meme or ghost emoji, to commemorate the beginning of our favorite month. But November has its charms too, its brown and gray and yellow charms, and the mosquitos are truly dead and good riddance, and the humidity is truly over, and Thanksgiving is the second best holiday of the year, after Halloween, of course.
But for now, I have another 13 days until the best day of the year. The moon is waxing, and the luminescent clouds scudding past like ghosts create a slow-moving work of art. If I look hard, perhaps I see a figure zooming across the giant white pumpkin on a broom. In the meantime, I think about death, and life, and my dead loved ones, and all the death around me, and how much life I want to devour, how many bite-sized Snickers I want to eat, how many goddam pumpkin spice oat milk lattes I want to drink, how much pleasure I will get from lighting the jack-o-lantern every night, and let’s not forget the wood smoke, and pulling on corduroys warm from the dryer, and Linus’ dumb and deathless faith in “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown”…I could go on.