Note: This is the third essay in the series of “Why We Love Autumn.” I recently asked some friends who love autumn as much as I do to reflect on what made them so excited for autumn to arrive. The answers will be varied and have a different voice each post. . Brantley and I have been friends since my freshman year of college…how was that ten years ago??? I had the honor of officiating Brantley and Caroline’s wedding in May 2009 in the Duke Chapel (pictured below!).
At first reflection, I have no idea why I like fall (google says I should not capitalize fall unless I’m talking about the “Fall semester;” I don’t want to think about the Fall semester). The reflection last week makes wonderful sense. But then my material didn’t really get it together until January…and, to be honest, I don’t like winter so much. I do love fall, though. I anticipate it all year. I lament its passing. I look forward to its return. Perhaps the most intriguing thing, to my mind, about my own particular addiction to this season: of all of them, fall is one that is ordered most acutely by impermanence and transitoriness.
Upon further reflection, it occurs to me that what I love is fall’s beautiful ending. It’s at least a curious thing to love so much something that announces from the beginning that it will not remain this way. Spring begins to announce itself from within the midst of winter by the return of birdsong. This is only a recent (and somewhat disturbing) observation on my part: further North (google says capitalize cardinal directions “when referring to a specific region”), birds do not stick around for the winter. (Winter is marked by nature’s total silence.) Fall first hints at what’s coming as green acorns fall from trees. Their dead and broken bodies litter the ground now. (Forgive the easy articulation of symmetry:) Spring marks the return of the life over whose death fall presides. So…it’s kind of weird that I like fall so much, right?
I mean, I’ve always thought of fall in terms of the experiences included within the season. This includes things like SEC football; the way that drinking a cup of coffee early in the morning makes sense again; the play of still-warm sun and crisp breeze on my skin; also, okay…new episodes of my favorite shows (damn you, commercialization of time!).
But, really…it’s the leaves. I like the leaves the most.
There is a stretch of road in Durham, North Carolina, running alongside the edges of Duke’s campus, that is so thick with trees and low-hanging branches that in fall one gets the sense of moving through a perpetual sunset. Our house in New Jersey is similarly surrounded by trees and there is a curious way in which the shades of reds and oranges combine to project a sense of warmth, even in the midst of an increasingly chilly climate.
So, in the end, it’s the brilliant color of the leaves I love the most. But what is this color a sign of but their impending death and decay? Not only this, but the change in color which marks the turn towards the end is also a sign of the flux of time so easily concealed by nature’s own pace. Summer and winter, those relatively static seasons, are also moments of transition. But in the leaves of fall, the transitory nature of things rises to the surface just a bit more vividly. To be so invigorated, and to love so much, something that’s very presence is also an announcement of its imminent end is…I’m not sure. I resist the idea that such love is tragic. I think it’s probably just natural, actually – to do with the relationship of things to time. The seduction of fall is, I think, finally this: that of all the endings one can experience, at least this one is beautiful.