The Dread And Pleasure Of Fall

by Julie Vick
Originally Published: 

Somewhere around the summer solstice, I start to panic. The idyllic Fourth of July picnics that mark the peak of the season will soon be over, and in mid-July stores will yank the coolers and grills from their shelves to make way for piles of notebooks and sweaters. Magazines will put out August issues touting fall plaids and boots and corduroys. In my mind, at the end of June, summer is almost over. Technically, I know it has only just begun, but psychologically, all I can focus on is the minutes of our days slipping away. Before I know it, the fleeting hours of light will only reveal a cold, brown winter landscape, and I’ll have to work hard to stay up past 9 p.m.

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But what about fall? Truth be told, I’ve never loved it. It’s not just the shortening of days but also the stress that accompanies it. As a kid, it signaled a return to school: back to being cooped up under fluorescent lights for days after a summer spent at camps and splashing around in the pool. I used to take some measure of excitement from a fresh box of crayons and a first-day-of-school outfit, but August was always a countdown to the day when you actually had to carry these objects to school.

As an adult working office jobs, the end-of-summer dread became less dire along with a lack of summer break. But it still signaled the end of a more relaxed time of year when TV shows go on hiatus, outdoor movies are shown under the stars, and I could wear sandals to work and sip cool drinks outside in the evening. Fall meant pulling out the wool skirts and sipping warm drinks indoors. It was time to lock down and get serious again.

After several years in the cubicle world, I shifted careers to begin teaching and gained back a looser summer schedule. Now, if I do teach, I have a shorter semester and lighter load. But I also have small kids and a mile-long to-do list of organizing, oil changes and doctor’s appointments hanging over me. And long summer days with small children can have downsides: They want to go to bed at 10 and wake up at 5.

Actually, when I think about it, I really enjoy how early fall feels. The temperature becomes more bearable, and outdoor cafes are still possible with a couple more layers. When caramel apples appear in the grocery stores, I buy at least one a week for the fleeting time they are available so I can get my fill of the tart, sweet taste until the next year. Leaves scattered on the sidewalk have a crunch that makes a normal walk more satisfying. I love the pumpkins and costumes and parties that come as Halloween nears.

As I’ve gotten older, I also find myself hovering indoors in the AC for a good chunk of the summer; I have no idea how I used to enjoy long, hot days at the pool as a kid. I’ve started looking forward to the cooler afternoons that set in after Labor Day. Fall is temperamental where I live in Colorado. It can snow in September, and an unexpected frost can turn the dahlias in my garden to horror-movie-like black stalks overnight. But an early snow is often followed by a clear, 60-degree day—the kind that can appear through November—and the golden rivers of Aspen leaves spilling down the mountains make it one of the better times of year for a drive.

When I start to dread fall, I think I am failing to remember the reality of it. I am jumping ahead to the next season instead of stopping to enjoy the current one. So this year, I’ll put on a long-sleeved shirt and sip cider outside while the chrysanthemums bloom. I’ll do my best not to think ahead to winter, though. That’s an entirely different thing.

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