Autumn is the least appreciated season around here. It’s short, it’s cold, it looks nothing like New England postcards, but most importantly it just gets squeezed between the fun of summer and the difficulty of winter. (Or the anticipation of summer, and the fun of winter, for you snowsport enthusiasts.) It’s the forgotten season, basically relegated to hoping construction projects get finished (they won’t) and hoping you can avoid hearing Christmas songs until at least December (you can’t).
Looking back on summer before as we move into winter, it’s kind of like looking back at the house to make sure we didn’t forget anything before we leave. Stove off? Windows closed? Have I watered my cactus this year? Sometimes I find myself wondering if I really took advantage of summer as much as I should have. Did I hike enough? Should I have gone longboarding more often? Is my car ready for winter? Am I? Yes, I love autumn, but in a rainforest it does often feel like a waiting room for winter, indistinct except as a bland corridor from the frenetic fun of summer to the oppressive chill of winter.
Perhaps the most well-loved part of autumn, at least in the Great Contiguous, is the crunch of orange and red leaves. But, of course, in Juneau the beauty of our fall has to come from elsewhere, as our leaves are usually the consistency of cold oatmeal and the color of bad motor oil. Instead we make do with crisp air, low, coppery rays of sun, and the pop of ice puddles with air pockets. Here, the rain makes everything wet, then the frost dries everything back up. Except the leaves.
So, when the leaves are black and soggy, and a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of studded tires, and Halloween and Thanksgiving shore up their levies against the looming power of Santa Claus and his sundry army of elves, carolers, and licensed merchandise, you know it’s about time. Time to winterize, get de-icer, upsize your pantry and refamiliarize yourself with the evils of the driveway snow-berm. Time for waxing your skis and pumping your brakes. Time for weird drinks full of cloves and nutmeg. Time for Vitamin D pills. Time to rewatch all of the Harry Potter movies. (Time for binging Stranger Things 2, Oct. 27 am I right?)
But I am determined to make more of autumn this year. It’s not just the grinding inevitable millstone that slowly crushes memories of summer into the dust and wind-blown snow. Autumn should be fun! I will think of autumn as a destination, not a journey. I’d like offer one of the slow and mild ways to do so: with a cider or a sherried whiskey, a brisk, cold walk in the woods, and a little Pablo Neruda.
Pablo Neruda may be one of the best love poets ever published, but perhaps lesser known is his more agrarian side, which makes him perfect for a reflective season-change such as autumn. In his nature poems his signature floatingly abstract style still manages to land softly on tangible subjects, like in his Oh Earth Wait for Me, or his Ode to Bird Watching.
While walking, or sipping a good sherried Glenfarclas, make sure to notice the things unique to this abbreviated season. Cottonwoods smell ripe, as do the salmon, animals begin to hibernate, hoard, or head south, and of course the sun gets lower and more golden. Neruda is not only an excellent observer of not only these kinds of sensory observations but also of the humanity surrounding such moments. In his mind, an apple isn’t just a thing to experience but something to remind us of the humanity of eating, cooking, and gathering together. Like the holiday of Thanksgiving, we can use reflections on the bounty of nature and the universal experience of the seasons to remind us of our place in relation and connection to each other.
Anyway, that’s my recommendation for this autumn. Bundle up, go on a walk down to Herbert Glacier, smell the cottonwoods, drink some scotch (or spiced apple juice!), read some of Neruda’s Residence on Earth and don’t forget to bring a friend. Make sure to remember that winter will come when it does, but autumn is here now.
• ”Guy About Town” appears the first and third Sunday of every month and includes seasonal musings on what changes and what doesn’t in a small town. Guy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.