Fall, once a time of renewed promise and fresh hope, for the last several years has been an acrid-tasting period of transition: leases always seem to be ending, relationships need to be renegotiated, wardrobes must be swapped out, and all the compartmentalized elements of one’s life are ready to be reevaluated. As the dog days of August (when the heat makes work impossible) slowly fade out, a sinking feeling sets in as Fall-proper is slated to begin. Perhaps due to some global-warming-related temperature variation, in recent years in my home state of North Carolina, summer seems to draw itself out as long as possible before making an abrupt transition to winter; Fall, that magic and subtle in-between that I used to know, now feels like a faint voice on a warped record, warbling out of existence.
September is a month filled with birthdays: parties must be attended, presents must be bought. My own rolls around at the end of that month, forcing me to reckon with my own ‘life progress’ in this already tenuous period—Am I ‘better’ than I was before, or have I regressed? The body has certainly regressed—bones crack when I get out of bed, more stretching is necessary. Birthdays, like all annual holidays, are a truly awful mile marker, making one remember the mediocrity of years passed and the swiftness with which time devoured them. Only the excrement remains, the rabbit-pebbles of memory.
The last time Fall felt magical was, probably not coincidentally, a year I spent a lot of time outside. Since joining the ashen-faced ranks of white-collar culture workers, the seasons have tended to blend together, to be something that’s happening outside the window behind the glow of my computer screen. That last magical Fall, I lived in a small Southern town and worked in a bakery at the edge of town. I wasn’t in love but I rode my bike around alone or with friends. I was happy. I spent my days scooping cookie dough onto sheets and listening to either affiliate NPR or the Silver Jews with my Gen-X co-workers. At night I would take long solitary walks down the train tracks through the quiet town, where the crisp wind carried the reassuring fall smell of fire. My comrade-at- arms Rita and I would range around town at night on our bicycles looking for grad-student parties to crash—the kind of parties where you could grab a bottle of wine and down it without anyone really noticing. We would bike all over the deserted town at night, often not seeing a single car, and often end up at a lonely railroad bridge hidden away in an old money neighborhood downtown. When we happened to have a mass of bikers with us, on a Friday night, or after an art opening, we took them to the top of an empty five-story parking lot: the best view of the ever-expanding fall landscape of the Piedmont/Triad area. On other nights, I would drive to Borders and drink refill after refill of their pumpkin coffee, flipping idly through books that I still haven’t read.
In this metallic-tasting future of windows that you can’t open and climate- controlled air being pumped into dwellings and offices by massive physical plants, does the season matter anymore?
In New York, where most nature is a simulacrum, the season change primarily indicates a change of wardrobe and comfort. Thank god it’s Fall, no more excessive sweating and a great chance to show off my new coat. But in cities like New York where there is no nature that isn’t planned and groomed by designers, some biological element of the seasons is missing.
And yet, even here, old sensations have been washing over me for the past couple of days. Last night, while finishing beers in the backyard of a friend’s house after a hot thunderstorm, the way the moon framed the big hammock- slung oak tree and neon grass, the backyard floodlight hitting the vinyl siding reminded me of Halloween approaching and of the time when the growing-cool nights were pregnant with anticipation of bike rides through piles of dead leaves, pumpkin cappuccinos at the all-night gas station and the prospects for new romance with a good-looking hoodie.
The old zeal for life that comes in with the arrival of the crisp months has faded over the years down to where it is just faint-burning light—we have to blow on the coal and ashes to bring the fire back to life.