“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” ~George Eliot
I love autumn, but as it turns out, I am unwittingly flying about the Earth seeking successive summers. Although the idea of ‘endless summer’ seems wistfully appealing when one is stuck at work in November or shoveling snow in February, for someone like me who has always lived in areas with four distinct seasons) it’s actually a bit strange to live it. I have always loved autumn for the same reasons everyone else does. Being outside is a pleasure, with pumpkin and apple picking, hayrides, bug-free evenings around the fire pit, and enjoying a Sam Adams Octoberfest while Lily jumps in piles of freshly-raked leaves (hopefully without any doggie leftovers). This is why I am embarrassed that it had basically escaped my attention that autumn was even here. Last night, on a quick visit to hotels.com, ads for “autumn in Vermont” popped up, warning shoppers to hurry and book for fall foliage! A photo of a country lane with split rail fence lined with bright orange maple trees accompanied the ad, and I felt a little nostalgic. I had to stop and look around, confused. “What day is this? Is it really the autumnal equinox?” Of course it doesn’t look like it. I sit among palms and blooming bougainvillea on another of the Greek Islands, where the sky is blue, the sun shines on the turquoise ocean, and my wardrobe consists of alternating between my swimsuit cover up and cutoff jean shorts, just as it’s been for the last month. I dumbly notice that it’s about 5-10 degrees cooler than it has been the last few weeks, and perhaps slightly windier.
Trees in my native Appalachian mountains give that first signal that autumn is approaching by dropping a solitary orange leaf in your footpath, forcing you to embrace autumn’s arrival slowly but surely. It’s a tiny signal that in a few short weeks, the mountains will burst with color. Fleeces and jeans will come out of the closet, flip flops and swimsuits put away. Here in the endless summer of the Mediterranean, trees merrily sway along with their palm fronds and climbing pink blooms, just as they have since our midsummer arrival. There is a shutdown for winter, we’re told. But by the time that happens, we’ll be long gone, jumping the equator just in time to watch locals begin the spring season in South Africa, preparing for another shortly approaching summer. The only signal that anything is changing here, now, is a decrease in crowds, some tavernas shut down for the season, buses cut their schedules, and every so often you see a typically Greek white house with blue shutters, shrouded in grapevines and happily blooming bougainvilleas, but with a pumpkin on the porch.
I’m pretty ecstatic that we’ve been able to time this trip to essentially skip winter. Perhaps I’ll feel differently when it’s Christmas, and everyone back home is watching for those first snowflakes, baking pies, and sipping hot chocolate while the Christmas tree lights twinkle under a sky that is dark by 5 pm while in Australia we’re barbequing on the beach. Perhaps… but probably not. But regardless of its unfortunate place in the calendar as winter’s predecessor, I have always looked forward to autumn. I look forward to spring too, but in a different way. Spring can never get here fast enough. With the first glimpse of tulip leaves poking through the grit-encrusted flower beds, even though another snowstorm is still in the forecast, I find myself storing sweaters, opening windows, and shopping for brightly-colored clothes. It’s like, come on spring, come ON! But spring can be a real teaser. All of a sudden it’s blazingly hot and you have to shut the house up AGAIN to keep it cool. Autumn is different. It drifts in slowly, subtly, with its crisp air and clear sky, bringing along a comfortable feeling of settling in. Although I do not miss replacing screens with storm windows, going back to work, or endless leaf blowing, all of it in preparation for a long, tough winter, autumn rarely gets the blame, and is still the most truly enjoyable season.
But once the true crispness of autumn is fully upon Europe and our old home in the US, our new home in Australia will be deeply in the midst of spring. This is a fact embarrassingly little known to many Northern Hemisphere-ians, and I always made it a point for my science classes to have it ingrained in their brains. When this trip is over and home establishment in Australia has occurred, there will eventually be another autumn come next April. Although the eucalypts don’t lose their leaves and the koalas don’t collect nuts for hibernation, there will be new traditions to mix in with the old. I hope to remember the quiet pleasure of old autumns fondly, while still embracing the new, unusual environment around me. Once we’re settled in Australia, I may even choose to move our Thanksgiving to April or May, so it’s still an autumn harvest celebration. After all, I wouldn’t want it to clash with the Rose Festival in November.