Close Enough to Fall

Autumn is my favorite season.

For most people, autumn signifies the beginning of the end, the harbinger of winter, the last hurrah before the year ends and begins anew, the year itself being a phoenix that, at least where I’m from, rises not from ashes but from a fresh ivory powder, cold and wet and long. For most people, autumn is the bed news bear they women up to after a long night of drinking and having fun with summer.

For most people, their year ends on December 31st and begins on January 1st. Not for me, though. Those are just days.

My year begins and ends in Spring, May 10th, the day I was brought into this world covered in blood and greeted by a string of pained profanities. I calculate my years by a full 365 days on earth to accomplish  (or fail) in whatever tasks I’ve set ahead of myself. It doesn’t seem fair to me to give up 129 days just because I wasn’t around to see them (if you’re wondering, I didn’t accomplish a lot that first year I was around. Walking, maybe. A couple lazy words, perhaps. My second year was far more productive: I ruined an entire marriage).

So my year starts when the flowers begin to boom, under the handful of showers slinking away from April, somewhere behind the dirty caked patches of snow struggling to survive on the sides of the road. Spring is messy, as is birth, and beautiful, and full of life, but fledgling. Summer is full of sunshine and brightness and long days (good long, not hours of being screamed at by customers long). And then autumn.

For many, the fall season is full of melancholy. Resignation. Hell, there are even those who love winter and so want to skip through autumn as quickly as possible to get to the skiing and snowboarding and snowmachining.

Me, I like the colors. Alaska in fall is gorgeous, especially out in the wilderness and on the hiking trails. I don’t get out there much. I grew up watching films set in places like Seattle and New York and Paris: bigger cities with long stretches of neighborhood with trees that towered over the streets, awash in shades and hues once August hits, a song by sight through October.

I’ve never been to New York City. I’ve only driven through it in places like Kentucky and Tennessee and, yes, Seattle. But the first time I got to walk through a long stretch like that, like I had seen in the movies, I was 18 years old. It was a park somewhere in London. Steve Irwin had just been killed by one of the last animals anyone would have guessed, and though I was never much an avid watcher of his show, he was well known enough that it was jarring news to wake up to. So I was there, young, the furthest from home I had ever been, with only one person with me that I knew, contemplating mortality while the trees all died around me.

It was sad, and it was beautiful.

I go for long walks often, and when it isn’t autumn here, I pull that memory of London from the tail end of September and set it right behind my eyes. I walk a lot, I think a lot, and as the year begins to slip into a long, dark difficult period (but not the end! Not the end of my year), I reflect on what I’ve done since my birthday. Where I stand with the goals I had set for myself that year. What I plan to do or change to reach them once snow begins to fall and I have to dig my heels in.

This year, it’s a weird one. I hit my three year mark in a job I enjoy sometimes but don’t want to turn into a career. I’m still living in a place that doesn’t seem to satisfy me on an emotional or mental level, a place that doesn’t seem to offer me many opportunities to grow as a person and as an artist. I’m sitting on a novel that should have taken me three months to write and is now a nearly ten month endeavor, because… why? I don’t want to close the door on a chapter of my life that was always supposed to be fleeting? Because I wanted to believe a certain kind of love could work out and I’m using art to work through why it can’t?

These are things that often trouble me and, I suspect, will trouble me deeply this winter, as it troubles me every winter, but for some reason always seem to get compartmentalized in the fall.

Autumn is my favorite season. My season. When death is beautiful and everywhere, and presents itself as a farewell with a gentle promise to see you again soon. It’s an opening number to winter’s main event, a deep and broad beauty in its own way, stark and simple and clean. It’s the season I think. The season I am the closest I can be to peace. The season I reevaluate and walk down long paths, even if sometimes only in my mind, even if sometimes a decade ago on another continent.

I would very much like to die some day, far down the line, perhaps the end of August, perhaps the beginning of September, surrounded by reds and yellows, the odd greens, the warm browns, head tilted back against a shedding trunk, a good book open in my lap.

After all, autumn is a season of death, and beauty, a companion to walk you into darkness to new life beyond. That seems peaceful to me. That seems perfect to me.

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Summer Daze

I was sort of in a slump and feeling particularly unmotivated, so I asked someone to give me a topic to write about. She came back quickly with, “how good summer smells”, not knowing, apparently, that the sinus infections of my youth have left me congested most of the time. Aromas aren’t as potent for me as it is for othersĀ  (though thankfully neither are odors).

Luckily, there are days when my nose is clear. My grandfather lost his sense of smell completely somewhere during his life. I always thought that was the saddest thing, that he would never be able to smell the richness of Grandma’s cookies as they came out or the oven with their chocolate chips still gooey and sweet. I am fortunate not have that problem, and when I’m able to breathe freely, I do indeed get to enjoy the smells of summer.

Full disclosure: I’m not a summer guy. It’s just too…bright. Too optimistic. It’s warm, it’s sunny, the birds are singing and the trees are green. Activity is everywhere you look: bikers and beach-bunnies, dogs playing and kids running. It’s too upbeat and fast-paced for my liking.

Nor am I a spring guy (too wet, too mulchy) or a winter guy (too cold, too dark for too long). No, I like autumn, for… well, lots of reasons. I’ll write about it in fall. I may have written about it already, but I write a lot of stuff, so who knows?

Anyway, summer. This summer, I’m appreciating it in much the same way a man approaches air after being submerged to the point of agony, or the way a house greets the firefighters who have come to wrestle the inferno inside it down to dying embers.

This winter was a hard one on me. I felt it in the marrow of my bones, in the nerves clutching at the back of my eyes, and in the deepest corners of each chamber of my heart. So yeah, you could say I’m a fan of summer this year.

Summers in Alaska stretch long, the longest days usually over 20 hours of some degree of light. Right now, early May, is a perfect time. I’ve stayed up late enough to see the sunrise, tickseeds and tangerines yawning across the belly of the horizon. I live for the cobalt evenings, a blue pane that gives a glimpse into a greater outdoors, turning over into the purples and blacks that often accompany the more showy magic tricks. I love the games the sun plays on the inlet, the rays scattering like so many precious gems, leaving me richer for viewing it.

And yes, the smells. The fresh smell of rain on pavement. “Rain makes change,” my friend wrote right before I stole it and filed it away under “Things I’ll try to turn into poetry later.” And it does. It washes away the grime of long days and hard nights, drums a march along your windows and roofs, leaves behind a scent of cleanliness, and if cleanliness is next to godliness, then rain is heaven-sent.

The smell of pine is fresh. We know this because we hang air fresheners in our cars and our commonly defiled bathrooms, but it takes only a second to enjoy a summer pine tree in a way we don’t afford the ones we drag in for Christmas. Winter pine trees are nonsense, mess-makers and back strainers, and holy shit, did we just murder a tree so we can prop its corpse up for a week and a shove material items under? Barbaric.

No, summer pines are better. They are the ones you stumble across on a lazy Sunday afternoon when you decide, fuck it, let’s detour off this sidewalk into these mystic-looking woods. They’re the ones that smell as richly green as they look. If you have synesthesia, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, that’s a metaphor. Find some woods. Do some soul-searching.

Summer has the smell of fresh harvests. Street vendors smoke and grill their wares. Laughter rings through the air, growing and fading as the children dart past. Sprinklers dance back and forth on fresh-cut lawns (which I have an inexplicable allergy to, but they smell great as well, and they look damn fine), and kids and dogs jump through the streams of water. Robins thrust their ruby breasts out and coo cutely before taking flight, illustrating a majesty that exists in birds no matter how small (a hummingbird, let’s say) or ugly (a vulture. Sorry! I’m sorry. That was rude. You have a great personality.).

When summer rolls around, I think of apples – red and green – and hotdogs, bonfires by a lake and stealing rhubarb from the neighbor’s garden as a kid. I wasn’t much of a rhubarb fan, would certainly politely abstain from a slice of rhubarb pie, but I liked the way it made my mouth pucker up.

The wind in your hair feels different in summer than any other season. In winter, it isolates you. You realize more fully your individuality, your solidarity. Winter is flat, it’s bare, it’s simple, and a winter wind reminds you that you are merely one object moving through it. Spring wind is chill and often excited. It’s a promise of warmer, dryer days where the slop of the ground turns over full gardens. Autumn wind is art. We’ll talk about autumn wind.

But summer breeze through your hair? Baby, that’s freeing. The carelessness and whimsy of summer days in the sun on soft grass with good company and a cold beer, that takes the punch out of even the most wrenching 40 hour work week. Seeing golden rays on a dark-haired, light-freckled woman as she turns to smile on you puts as much air in your body as under the wings of a kite.

Summer is a little too innocent for me. It whispers secrets of a life I gave up on a few years back. I’m a fall man, full of color and introspection and retrospection. Summer is sweet where I’m tangy, but goddamn….

Summer is beautiful. And it smells good, too.