“The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cottons into its winter wools.”=-Henry Beston
“Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.” - Jim Bishop
The Continual Beauty of the Fall
Autumn 2016 came into the Northern Hemisphere on Thursday, September 22 at 10:21 AM. At that time summer officially ended and our Hemisphere will gradually moved into that time of shorter hours of daylight, cooler weather, the movement of butterflies, birds and other wildlife species across state lines and continents, and the slow, steady emergence of remarkable shades of color on thousands of trees, flowers, and shrubs. I love fall. It is very special to me.
This region has approximately equal amounts of time in each of the four seasons and that means that each year I get to see fall come in and fully watch it make its slow and glorious march towards winter. As a walker, hiker, and birder I have the time to fully take in and experience the changes just as they happen: to delight in how this one street, a particular yard, tree or garden makes its way through this cycle yet again. Fall is magical to me; it always re-awakens my joy in my surroundings and my sense of the miraculous. I am grateful that we get to have a full three months of this phenomenon. I treasure this season.
It was not always like this for me. When I was a kid fall meant primarily back to school, and that was sometimes good and sometimes bad. It also meant the end of the regular baseball season, and as a life-long Phillies fan, that was usually a blessing. It also meant the drama and excitement of the World Series and then the start of professional football. There was also Halloween and trick or treat and my November birthday. That was the fall of my younger days. Of course a lot of that schedule has changed over the years-the baseball and football seasons have expanded to ridiculous lengths, so what seemed like a logical a link between the seasons of the year and the sports being played is long gone. And I haven’t gone trick or treating in decades, although I totally enjoy the giving out of treats on Halloween and the wonderful way my Mt. Airy neighborhood goes all out in decorating the houses and yards for the holiday. And my birthday? Aside from the Mermaid gig each year I like a quiet unspectacular observance. So while fall had a number of things that definitely recommended itself to me in my younger days, it had not really been a “special” time to me. It was nice, but not “special.” But that all changed one October when I was 20 on a trip to visit friends in Rhode Island. That trip totally changed my thoughts about and my relation to the fall.
I was taking the old Penn Central rail line from Philly to Providence, RI. A few seats in front of me was a couple that was apparently super-excited about the trip. They kept getting out of their seats, walking to one side of the train and then the other, and looking out the windows and “oohing” and “ahhiing.” I watched this for a bit and was mystified. It was just a train trip, after all; what was the big deal??? I then went up to them and asked what was going on; why were they going through all of this running around and looking out the windows? The man looked at me and said, “We’re from Los Angeles. This is our first time East-we have never seen fall before! We read about it and saw some photos, but this is our first time actually seeing it! It is incredible!” Just then the train was crossing the Connecticut River. Looking down the view that hit our eyes was an unbelievable riot of all different shades of orange, red, green, and yellow. And through their eyes-their newness and amazement with fall- I suddenly woke to a new appreciation of the season. It hit me like a sledgehammer-this is what fall was. And I haven’t looked back since.
That trip started my revised relationship with autumn. I spent the rest of the train ride marveling at the beauty outside the train window, and by the time I reached Providence I was hooked on fall. I then became a camper, and a few years later, a birdwatcher/ hiker. The “miracleness “of fall had become more and more a part of my life. I began to really appreciate what William Penn did when he designed the city as a “Greene countrie Town,” with its vast array of trees and parks. Walking in different parts of Fairmount Park and in tree-filled cemeteries became normal in October and November. So did taking little trips to the suburbs and the country to see the colors on the trees. I went out to Longwood Gardens, and Curtis and Awbury Arboretums. I went on hay rides and out to apple orchards. Autumn had become something for me to enjoy and immerse myself in. It had become another vital way for me to connect to the world around me.
I still revel in the fall. My wife and will go camping near some Wildlife Refuges in Maryland in a little while and track part of the Southern hawk migration, just as we did last year. I will take more early morning walks all through Mt Airy, Germantown and Chestnut Hill, taking in the gardens and some of my favorite Japanese and other maple trees and watching them as they change. I will visit a few cemeteries such as Woodlawn in West Philly and Laurel Hill in Hunting Park and walk the grounds. And I will feel all the beauty and express gratitude and amazement as I once again realize what this world presents me with—the gifts that are there just waiting for me when I take the time to notice and appreciate them. Happy Autumn, everyone. Enjoy and experience the beauty and wonder of the mid-Atlantic fall.