This past winter slowly, almost imperceptibly melted into spring. Winter temps were very mild and snowfalls almost negligible. But as spring arrived so did Covid 19 and the accompanying isolation. Spring, usually accompanied with people spilling out of their houses, going to yard sales, nurseries, flea markets with their friends were stifled by the need to socially distance ourselves from one another. Spring temperatures revved quickly up to the 80’s and days became indistinguishable from summer.
The Spring months were lonely, solitary, fearful months as we began to learn more about Covid. Instead of spring clothes we adorned masks and carried hand sanitizer whenever we dared venture out of our domiciles. Days flowed one into the next unnoticeably, I lost track of the day and the date and it really didn’t matter. Because of the heat of this past spring I hardly noticed when the solstice arrived and the season changed. The brightest day and longest day of the year was hardly discernible because sequestered inside the house, little seemed different. Perhaps the only recognition of the change of season was the sound of mowers more frequently resonating around the neighborhood. Little social interaction between neighbors occurred cause we were all trying to feel our way safely through this pandemic.
Now with Labor Day over we are about to slide into the next season. As a kid, autumn was always exciting. In NYC we used to rake all the fallen leaves into huge piles on the edge of the road and jump in them. Running, leaping, screaming into the piles. Then our dads would light the pile of leaves at the curb and we would all stand around and watch them burn. That’s something you can’t do today but on any fall day, on any block in the suburbs of NYC, you could find a pile of burning leaves to warm your hands with. The smell of the burning leaves is emblazoned in my nasal cavity for life and the thought of it, not it’s presence, still warms the cockles of my heart! Autumn was for kids, for artists who tried to capture the incredible colors of the leaves, for bakers, with apple and pumpkin pies in the oven and their aromas wafting through the neighborhoods.
During my teaching years, fall brought the first day of school. I loved the excitement of setting up my classroom, loved decorating it for fall and meeting all the new students. During my innkeeping years in Vermont it was the start of “leaf peeping” season and dealing with a month straight of full houses and welcoming new people from all over the world. It was exciting, special, I was surrounded by people in both experiences and loved it. At the inn in the evenings it would mean schmoozing with guests in front of the raging fire and bottles of red wine. There was joy and laughter and incredible conversation with people from all over the country and around the world.
So how am I going to distinguish the arrival of fall this year? Of course, it comes with the 19th anniversary of 9/11, an event emblazoned in my mind and heart. We are at the beginning stages of socializing and I have noticed a red tinge on some maple trees. The light in my house has shifted slightly- the light from outside entering with a slight yellowing tinge. I am grateful for that. My dog and I wake up to a dark sky now which I can deal with because it is the natural progression of the world and it comforts me. But little else is different from summer. I suspect soon I will smell the wood burning stoves and fireplaces as they come into action and rubber gloves and masks will be replaced with knitted gloves and scarves, or at least I hope so! I’m too old to do flips into piles of raked leaves and you can’t burn them anymore at the curb. I’m ok with
those traditions passing but I would like to find a way to celebrate the autumn and would appreciate any suggestions as to how we can acknowledge the world turning during a smothering pandemic and once again discover some joy and youthful excitement. Suggestions greatly appreciated!
The lead in to autumn is my favorite time of year and September my favorite month. George is right — this has been a time devoid of social landmarks that help keep track of the seasons. It is a shame, because we like to celebrate the seasonal transitions: winter into spring, spring into summer, and the coming of fall. The sameness of limited activity through the pandemic has dampened our collective activity. Unless you are a potential super-spreader, you have likely narrowed your social outreach. Schooling, zooming, or working from home has you staring at a screen of one sort or another for a good portion of the day. Is it possible to get a “blue tan”?
Yet, there is something about the fall which you feel in your bones. The high pressure weather systems and cooler temperatures encourage me to move, finish projects, and prepare for winter. Autumn is large muscle time – outdoor projects and sports take center stage. Growing up, the Fall Classic was the World Series which was played out in September. It was football weather in October, marked by homemade confetti and the smell of oak leaves. These days it’s the start of the indoor tennis season. I don’t see this time of year as the end of summer so much as the beginning of a new round of events.
If summer is the celebration of flowers, the fall is celebration of leaves – and the harvest. Vegetable gardens are bountiful. Nothing better than fresh tomato sandwiches! Farmers markets share the bounty. It’s time to plant mums!
This year has dulled the social aspects of the seasonal celebrations and looking back, it seems as though we have been robbed of our preparatory rhythm. Rhythm is important. Many of my friends are having difficulty remembering the day of the week, so it’s no wonder the weeks have passed in homogenous similarity. George asked for suggestions… I’d offer these:
- The nights are cooler. Take advantage open windows and regular sleep patterns
- Buy new shoes. Go for a walk in your new shoes… be aware of the new bounce in your step
- Pretend you are starting school – get up at a regular time; dress for the day
- Prepare your garden for winter rest – spend an hour a day outdoors
- Start an indoor project
- Take vitamin D – less light, more Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Less TV, more book
- Celebrate the bounty of the season with fresh foods, a new coffee, a different tea
We can make our own seasonal markers. Make your kitchen table the center of the celebration. As Joy Harjo writes:
“The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.”
Moving Through the Seasons
My blogging partners raise the question of how the pandemic influences our movement through the seasons. Certainly the transition of summer to fall is most noticeable to those of us who have connections to schools. Whether we have children or family and friends who are school employees, the summer vacation typically comes to an abrupt halt after Labor Day and marks a shift from more leisurely living to more rigorous schedules
The pandemic has certainly impacted this tradition. While children and staff are back to school, they are returning in new and untested ways. Hybrid models of in-person to full time virtual learning have unfolded with uncertainty as each district and state interprets the data and readies their school communities for potential shifts and adjustments over the coming months. Add to that the challenge for working parents, who may or may not be working from home, to supervise their children when they are not in school, and we have a fall season like no other.
Yet autumn still signals us with diminishing daylight, cooler temperatures, changing leaves, and flowering grasses. The days no longer sit heavy with heat and moisture and the cooler temps and falling dew points encourage us to get up and out, to breathe deeply and to enjoy our natural surroundings. Duke and I have more energy and a quicker step during this time of year. In this pandemic fall season I am still able to hike, garden, split wood, and sit on the porch with my laptop. What’s changed is the lack of group gatherings around the fire pit and visits to see my grandchildren and to help out with their online learning while their parents are at work. Not being able to help is my biggest challenge and not knowing when this will change, adds yet another layer.
However, fall only lasts so long. Right now I am still able to have a friend or two over to sit on the porch for a meal or for a walk in the woods and to play outdoor pickle ball in the local park. When winter arrives, these options will no longer be available and I must ready myself for a season of solitude (SOS). While the last few ideas Wal offered can apply, like George asked in his opening post, I welcome suggestions for those indoor days.