In autumn, when the sun sets at just the right angle and the clouds are at just the right height in the sky, for a brief moment in the evening golden light washes the world in a celestial filigree.
In my family we call it “Fairy Light,” because it seems only magic would produce such a shimmering deep yellow glow.
There is something of comfort in living as we do in cycles—cycles of the year, cycles of the season, cycles of life and death.
Part of the beauty of the hour stems from the nature of the world around us, the last grip of life on the earth before winter strips it away. Shades of gold in the fading grass. Brown transcends to copper, amber, or ochre in this magical twilight. Fairy light is symbolic of the best of autumn—the parts I cherish the most.
Loving summer is mandatory for every child. School is out and the knowledge of long days—free to play, explore, and master the world—manifest as fierce childhood joy.
But as more and more summers come and go in my adulthood, I wonder if the summers of my childhood are just another example of human nature remembering only the good. Or maybe the times are just not the same.
As a kid, I left the house in the morning and didn't show up again until it started getting dark and all the parents on my street opened their doors and hollered for the sons and daughters to get their butts back for dinner and, in my case, wash their filthy bare feet before stepping on the carpet.
On my street I had lots of friends who lived just a few houses away. I was the honorary daughter of the McHughs, who had three boys and welcomed me with a love and affection that greatly shaped my life. My friend Ray stayed with his grandparents, the Carrs, who I routinely invaded for treats, claiming that I “smelled something sweet” every time I knocked on their door.
Fall is full of melancholy beauty.
Megan was the only other girl in our Parkwood Road gang in Lakewood; she and I were never ones for Barbies and dress-up, and that suited us just fine. When our friend Joe from two doors down moved away when I was about nine years old, those blissfully free childhood summers started to shift.
My friends grew older, and more and more obligations took up their time. The difference between boys and girls never seemed important to me, but it started to show in my friends. Slowly the joyful carefree summers lost some of their glory.
I realize now that what I cherished wasn't the season—it was the freedom. I now recognize that fall has always been my favorite season. Once the dread of going back to school was past, there was no reason not to relish the sounds, smells, and feeling
Crickets chirp a symphony of the everlasting cycle of the seasons, their wings a soothing lullaby sending away the summer and wrapping me in comfort with knowledge that all is right and well, that the darkness of night was nothing to fear. Fall is full of melancholy beauty. The lyrics of Tears for Fears “Mad World”
come to mind: “the dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had.”
Not that I have any obsession for death, but I get the concept the song conveys: Sometimes a thing has to end before its worth can be fully appreciated.
Nothing illustrates this more than the beauty of fall foliage, autumn’s star-filled Broadway spectacular. The dazzling colors are Nature’s flowers on the grave of summer. Each of those gorgeous hues—the bright yellows and reds, the deep auburns and browns, the shocking, almost fluorescent oranges—are caused by the slow decline of chlorophyll as the tree shuts down its vascular system. The colors are always there, but not until the green dies away do we see them.
Autumn leaves and the rapt joy they inspire seem designed to remind us that death is not darkness. Death is beauty and color, and it can be magnificent.
There is something of comfort in living as we do in cycles—cycles of the year, cycles of the season, cycles of life and death. Just as a strong daily routine provides structure and eases stress (anyone who has a small child or pets can speak to that), so too does nature’s reassurance via the cycles of the season.
I think that is why in fall we see comfort everywhere in our daily lives—scents of apple spice and pumpkin pie, an evening by the fire pit on a brisk night. Comfort foods like stews and roasts and all the things we didn't want to cook over a hot stove in August. Cooler evenings mean it’s comfy sweater weather.
In autumn it is not just okay to seek out comfort, it is the expectation. It’s like the mommy and daddy snuggles with our kids before settling down to sleep.
Autumn isn't just about cozy nooks with a cup of tea though. There is celebration and excitement in the air along with that crisp scent of fallen leaves. Fall brings football, tailgating, clambakes, harvest festivals, Oktoberfest, and the creme-dela-creme of fall celebrations—Halloween.
The dazzling colors are Nature’s flowers on the grave of summer.
Halloween is a night when we have complete permission to live outside of ourselves in a spectacularly imaginative way. So the days get a little shorter. Who cares? Fall gives us a reason to look forward to the night and pack the most into each day. In some ways, fall is summer on speed as we pack in the shortening hours of sunlight with determination.
For me, fall is when I actually want to be outside, when the temperatures max out in the 60s and the incessant mosquitoes die off for the year (though it's true that some stragglers seem to linger on just to spite me on those rare warm days in October and November).
As I finish writing this, the sun is starting to set, and I’m beginning to see hints of that fairy light I await each year. My husband and I just picked a date for our outdoor Oktoberfest and clambake.
The kids, for now, are starting to settle in their school routine. If fall were a dear friend who visited once a year, then I am sitting on the porch, anxiously awaiting my friend’s return.