**This was originally published on Thursday, September 4, 2014, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**
It was the red leaves in late August that got me. All around, the landscape screams, “SUMMER!” but there is something in the atmosphere that whispers, “Fall.” The green leaves that abound can’t quite screen out the occasional reds that are appearing. Golden flowers are flourishing on the roadside—a sure sign of summer’s last hurrah. In my yard, the sweet birdsong of spring and early summer has been replaced by the raucous cawing of crows.
I don’t like it.
Go ahead and tell me how much you love autumn. Try to convince me with the promise of community chicken stews and church Brunswick stews. Tempt me with the lure of vivid blue skies free of summer’s haze and a morning nip to the air. I’ll even agree that I love the fall foliage, football and hot spiced cider.
But I always miss summer once its swan song is sung.
Perhaps it’s that touch of claustrophobia that sometimes threatens me. It makes my toes cringe to think of surrendering their flip-flop freedom to the confined spaces of boots and tennis shoes. My skin does not want to give up the bareness of shorts and sleeveless shirts for the smothering enclosure of thick jeans and heavy sweaters.
I guess I just don’t like to be confined in any way—not even in my house. Due to my career as a writer, I’m already chained indoors to my computer too much. At least in late spring and summer, I can occasionally retire to the lawn chair on my deck, the trees providing me with shade as summer’s breeze brings relief on all but the hottest d
Although autumn in the South still provides enough nice weather for outdoor activities, the barefoot early mornings on my deck will soon be a memory. The late nights of lying on the trampoline to stargaze with my little boy will be relegated to the old paths as autumn’s chill gradually sneaks in. I start to see myself searching for a coat to wear even to the mailbox, my warm breath making “smoke” in the frosty air.
I suppose one facet of why I hate to say goodbye to summer is that I know autumn is just a brief fling with cooler but still-comfortable weather before the harsh winter cold sets in. It’s hard to enjoy the good magazines in the dental waiting room when you know you’ll soon be called to the back for your root canal. What awaits us often mars the joy of what currently surrounds us.
“But the autumn leaves are so pretty!” you say to me, thinking this will convince me to welcome fall with open arms. Why, yes. Yes, they are. But they last all of two weeks before they litter the ground with what will become winter’s compost pile—their vibrant reds, oranges, yellows subdued into one monotonous brown to be trampled underfoot.
Then we stare at bare trees for months….and months….and months.
Spare me your speeches and “Lion King” songs about the circle of life. I learned that in Mrs. Mildred Cromer’s first-grade classroom. I get it—I really do….not that there’s anything I could do about it if I didn’t. The cyclic seasons are as much a part of this life as the gravity that possibly sent an apple hurtling down to Sir Isaac Newton’s head.
I accept that, and I honor my Creator’s marvelous plan. And contrary
to what you may think after reading this column thus far, I DO appreciate the beauty of every season and am thankful for it. My Facebook friends especially know how I love snow; when they are tiring of it, I am hoping for yet another snowstorm.
I realize that sometimes things must change for us to appreciate what we had/have. Even I would tire of a constant spring or an endless summer. “Variety is the spice of life,” they say. Well, THEY are certainly correct.
So I roll with the punches of the ever-fluid calendar and know that I will more richly revel in the resurrection of nature in the spring BECAUSE I have been through the barren winter. I will savor summer’s warmth in June BECAUSE I remember the frigid cold of January. Bare feet in newly-plowed garden soil, green shoots springing up from the ground, new leaves unfurling on hitherto bare branches—these pleasures are more poignant because of their long absence.
But for now, please humor me in my lament for the passage of summer. As long as the calendar says August, I can still imagine that I’ll finally make it up to Hanging Rock to swim, that I’ll take that tubing trip down the Dan River, that I’ll head to the beach once more to sunbathe. But as soon as I turn the page to September, I sense the finality of those unmet goals. Summer’s slow, lazy pace lulled me through June, July and August, fooling me into thinking I’d have time to relax and do summertime things once my busy schedule calmed down.
I fell for it again. And now it’s time to get out the school supplies and put away the bathing suit that I didn’t swim in a single time this summer. Let me revamp Jimmy Buffett’s song and say, “It’s my own dang fault.”
I’m making the transition from Seals and Crofts to Sinatra—from “summer breeze makes me feel fine” to “my fickle friend, the summer wind.” Summer, you have less than three weeks left, so I bid you adieu and hope to see you next June 21. I will console myself with hot chocolate, steaming chicken stew and warm hoodies, but remember, you still have my heart.