When I was little, autumn meant jumping in a pile of papery brown oak leaves. It meant my dad putting the bright blue plastic cover on the pool until March. It meant my mom arguing with me and my sister about why we didn’t need the slightly more expensive mechanical pencils and Trapper Keepers for school.
As I entered my teenaged years, autumn became both a welcome relief after the dreary boredom of summer and a font of stress from whence a whole host of adolescent fears poured forth. For awhile, it meant starting over at a brand new school every few years, facing judgment and blank faces from strangers; after my family finally settled in one spot, it came to mean a new year, a fresh start, another chance to make a different life for myself, to make new friends, to get a coveted spot in the school musical, to finally get straight A’s. But it also meant seeing my breath shimmer in Friday night lights during marching band performances, shivering with a shared blanket and a paper cup of hot chocolate in the football stands in my pom pom uniform, grabbing late-night chai lattes at Caribou Coffee, planning elaborate Halloween costumes, spooking ourselves on drives down Cuba Road, TPing football players’ houses, pep rallies, and racing home from the Homecoming game to get ready before my date showed up at the door, cumbersome corsage in hand.
In college, the advent of autumn signaled an even more frenetic, heady time. Once the mania of sorority rush ended, then ensued a flurry of social events: fraternity exchanges and pledge mom nights and football blocks and barndances and serenades and Homecoming floats and cast parties. My friends incessantly calling me at 7am to roust me out of bed and to the bar to play approximately 20 rounds of flip cup before stumbling to the stadium. Wandering the corn maze at Curtis Orchard before picking out a pumpkin and indulging in cinnamon donuts and cider. Jumping into a pile of hay with a cheap beer in hand. Letting my eyes water by the bonfire all in the name of the perfect crispy golden marshmallow. The autumn chill in the air biting my nose as I walked through fiery leaves to class, to chapter, and to rehearsal.
When I started teaching, autumn quickly became a thing of dread. Once again I could kiss my free time, my sanity, my personal happiness, and my voice goodbye until the next long weekend. Every day became one more day closer to summer vacation. One more day to question myself, to doubt myself, and to generally resent the fact that I could not enjoy the changing seasons about me until they had already passed.
I have a different situation now, and for reasons I will not go into here, I’ve been forced to take public transportation in the mornings. I choose to walk home in the evenings. I choose to drift through the seasons. I’m almost a quarter-century old–!!!–and time does not stop nor run backwards. I never thought about my future when I was younger; why should I worry now? Yes, autumn signifies a dying of things, but it also means abundance and harvest and plenitude, as my past autumns have shown me. When I walk home, iPod in hand–the “Into the Wild” soundtrack seems to be a particularly apt accompaniment for such a trip–I try to focus on that.