Sometimes I hesitate to write my thoughts where everyone can see them. Words are so important to me - posting them for mass consumption can feel too vulnerable, like giving something away that I can never get back. But, today, I was overwhelmed by thoughts and feelings that flood my mind around this time every year. Fall is a restless time for me, a time when change seems not only good but necessary for survival.
This morning, I was thinking about the feast I'll be making for Sunday dinner and remembered that I needed to get some more apples for the bacon-apple crisp that I'm making for dessert (as if anyone will have room after the roast chicken, spaghetti squash with spicy eggplant and tomato sauce, home-baked bread, and cabbage salad). So, I set the alarm on my cell phone as a reminder and headed out to work. After hammering home some grammar rules with an exceptionally bright student, I headed home. Getting apples from the local orchard required a detour from my usual hypnotic route, however, and I soon found myself cruising down a small highway lined with flaming trees, empty cornfields, and signs for ham suppers (take-away only!).
The surroundings coupled with the perfect autumn afternoon light (that is never harsh because it's always sloping in rather than shining down), reminded me of fall days in my childhood when we would head to Burrville Cider Mill to watch them make the yummy brown liquid we were dying to sip. As we drove up the impossibly steep hill the mill sat on (which may only exist in my childhood memory), my brother and I would begin to salivate at the smell. While we were there we would enjoy as many free samples as we could sneak before being herded back to the car loaded down with apples and donuts and at least one gallon of cider.
That memory inevitably triggered another: this one from my junior year at Houghton. I don't remember who came up with the idea, probably Barry, since he was from the area, but a bunch of us took advantage of one perfect fall day by tromping around Letchworth State Park and visiting a local cider mill to get apples and pumpkins. I remember laying in the leaves and singing "How Great Thou Art" at the top of our lungs. I remember enjoying cups of hot apple cider once we got back to campus. I remember loving the people I was with and the sweaters and jackets we were wearing and the colors of the world around us.
My friends in seminary and I went apple-picking each year, too, at Terhune Orchard, where every weekend was apple festival. Every year, there was a new educational display to wander through, some bunnies to pet, incredible caramel apples covered in Reese's Pieces, and a necessarily lame corn maze, ruined by the impatient folk who walked through the stalks rather than finding their way out. I think I went three times my senior year.
Most of my best memories are from these months of chill and crunch and slanted sunshine. For many people, this time of year signals an ending. The awakening of springtime is long past, when skin is first experimentally bared after the long months of freezing. The heat and playfulness of summer have been extinguished. Winter lies just beyond the piles of dried leaves.
But, for me, fall is the time I wake up and want to move. I love winter. Maybe that's why I don't mind the first signs that she's on her way. Spring is lovely, but its usefulness to me is in that it starts the process that will provide abundant harvests as the summer dwindles. And summer, oh summer, how I loathe her heat and humidity. While most people dance for joy in the sunshine, I hide my delicate skin and sensitive eyes from the sun's burning rays, just waiting for the time I can once again don my well-worn hoodie and enjoy some time outdoors.
It's as if each leaf that falls is another message begging me to get out, to drive, to visit, to look, to walk and to listen. I revel in the perfectly crisp and juicy apples waiting to be plucked and eaten, the orange pumpkins and warty gourds and multi-colored mums that fill carts to overflowing at the local orchard, and the hay rides and corn mazes and hot cider by a fire while it's still just warm enough to be outside at night. Some produce comes in as early as May and June, but autumn is the real harvest season, when a sense of urgency pervades waking life, insisting that we put away all we can before it's time to hibernate. Fall is a time when we all get to nest like expectant mothers, anticipating the slower months of winter by stocking our pantries and getting out while it's still convenient and doesn't involve all the extra preparation of traveling with the threat of nasty weather.
Say what you like about this being the season of death and decay. Everywhere I look, I see life, life and more life.