Summer’s gone. Been wearing long pants for a week. Socks and shoes. Slippers. It’s hard to let go of that season of balm, lush green, iridescent flora, sultry breezes and the scent of earth and fresh water. Life at the 45th parallel, far from ocean beaches but surprisingly close to freshwater seas, thrives and throbs with such glorious grace it’s like eden and heaven incarnate, with Utopia and Elysian fields and Atlantis mixed in for good measure.
Summer here is so nice we celebrate it early, set out the yard furniture and wear short sleeves as soon as the snow melts and the lawn greens up for the first mow and ice is off the lakes. Trees barely bud and the lilacs hardly bloom when we hear those pre-dawn songbirds, windows open, our pith and sap run like rivers, and spring it may be to y’all by your calendar or market cycle, in the hearts of Minneapolis it’s already summer. The next months only get better. We prolong summer in every way.
The daylight aspect, after all, declines from June 21, when civil twilight in the morning commences about four a.m. and evening twilight fades after ten at night on a clear day. There’s as much daylight November 1 as February 8, least of all December 22, and in that span there isn’t much to illuminate outdoors that isn’t gray. No wonder all the colored lights. Winter alas is otherwise a prison sentence of light deprivation and hard labor in a hell of subzero cold — Celsius and Fahrenheit combined. Kelvinville. Essentially you serve your sentence with good behavior. Go to work, go to Target, celebrate some holidays, try to keep busy and warm, make your own fun, pay your bills and try to live as routine and normal life as possible by acting as if this cold habitat inflicted upon us by our ancestors or employers isn’t so bad, just a minor inconvenience compared to X (insert your favorite worst place in the world) and this is a just penance for the privilege of miraculously living in the best place on the planet the other nine months.
Serve your sentence — be sure to get your time in the exercise yard. Serve your time and get out feeling righteously entitled to be free again. Liberated. Exceptional. Mid-sentence escape to Mexico, fly over the wall free on bail, for a scent of outdoor flowers, get wind of open air music and taste food cooked near the ocean, get extradited back after Valentines Day. Serve the rest of your sentence getting your mind right until spring springs you out of the slammer of winter. Another year when you walk free like a political prisoner convicted of civil disobedience.
Fall comes. Like sudden cones in a construction zone everything goes all blaze orange. Pumpkins deck the terrain in every direction like an occupational army. It’s sad to realize soon you will be under arrest again.
It isn’t so much the kids are back at school as seeing them wear coats at the bus stops — when kids wear coats and jackets there’s a sign it’s getting nippy outdoors. Clip the deadheads in the garden. Tasseled prairie grass looks like overripe wheat. Time to bring indoors the hibiscus and potted palm from the front porch. No frost yet — unusually late — the nights gradually chill down and the days don’t catch up.
Funny how a 50F degree day in March feels so warm but so cold in October.
Get out the woolly hats. Sweater. Layers.
Brilliant slanted sunlight inflames the arbor life of the cityscape and all over the countryside so the forests everywhere go allout strange. Foliage so lush and green goes reluctantly ablaze. Oaks go red, maples golden and all shades orange, lindens and elms left after the Dutch Elm plague go gold. Amazing how the photosynthesis stops and the chlorophyll goes away, the decomposition and decay begins, and yet the trees never look more alive. Stunning.
A friend summarized it’s no wonder autumn colors inspire photographers and painters to replicate such scenes as we commonly see in northern America in our woods. I’m reminded of the Barbizon school of painters, Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet.
Then, just as sudden but predictably inevitable, beneath skies gloomy gray from a sun unseen somewhere slanted south, a light not so much up there as over that way, the leaf colors dim to beige and brown. The wind picks up and leaves cascade in the air with gusto like it’s raining postage stamps. Leaves blanket the lawn like a jagged parquet floor. Leaves clutter the sidewalks like patchwork tattered welcome mats. Leaves blend in with what is left of the garden. Trees go naked and gray. The silvertone sky shows through the skinny limbs. Surrender the leaves. Time for rakes and bags.
I remember my kids playing in piles of leaves when they were little. I miss that. I miss being younger and more fit to the chore of raking the lawn in the fall, look at myself advancing in age, grudgingly declining in stamina and dexterity, considering a future when I might have to give it up and hire a service — not just the leaf raking but shoveling snow off my sidewalks, which comes next. Not so much eden or heaven. Speaking of life and art, the thought of shoveling snow reminds me now of Marcel Duchamp and his piece called In Advance of the Broken Arm. Cue icy cold wind. Shudder.
This is mainly a grid city of avenues and streets. I live on a corner. Today they are sweeping my cross street and there are No Parking signs on the boulevard poles allowing the sweeper trucks and zamboni looking vehicles to mop the gutters as well as thoroughfares. Three, four five pass throughs. Good to see my city taxes at work. It’s funny as long as I remember as long as my wife and I have lived at this homestead, the street sweep of the cross street has ever been scheduled too soon in the fall: most of the leaves in this wooded neighborhood and my yard are still up in the branches of the trees and don’t fall en masse until about five days after the sweep. I imagine some other neighborhood gets swept clean after the peak fall, but my street (not always my avenue) goes all winter with leftover leaves smutched into icy pavement. It’s not pretty. I suppose now that I am at a certain stage of my life with time on my mind if not my hands to contemplate such things maybe I could pester city hall to swap out my street’s annual fall street sweep pushed back two weeks, shall I say to satisfy my own obsessive compulsive sense of order.
No. Nature will take its course, of course. My responsibility to civic duty is to keep my homestead up to code, so to speak, and said chores are enough if not entertaining.
In the stillness of an autumn afternoon, no hurry to see the brown leaves fall, no hurry to see another Sagittarius birthday, it’s so hard to let go of summer. Was it just this summer, or do I go through this every year? Or is it this fall — is it falling harder on me than ever? Time for a little cognitive therapy, and time for a little zen. Replace the screen windows with the storm windows of glass and think how many years we’ve done this. How many more? Supposedly smart wise intelligent and hip people plan ahead for such contingencies, so perhaps I should bone up on these essential questions of existence.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda. Might, maybe, oughta. Wanna, gonna, go.
Rockenroller as I claim to be, it’s the voice of Frank Sinatra I hear in my head — a guy of my father’s generation — singing that last verse of that song A Very Good Year about the days grow short, the autumn of my years, and I see it playing on a hi-fi turntable in my mind, the Reprise label going round and round, and try to put a good spin on it.
Seems like yesterday my son went trick or treating in the Halloween Blizzard dressed as the Punisher. Winter came really early that year. Leaves froze on the trees and lawns and in the streets like tannic popsicles. We got through it. They sweep the streets again in the spring. Summer comes back.