Sunday, October 11, 2015

Falling for Fall All Over Again

trees turn from summer to fall
Summer is my favorite season. Everything is lush and green and sunny, and it’s beach time. I am most comfortable outside with summer air warming my skin. Fall spells the death of summer and the descent into the frigid months of winter, so why would I like it? I was having trouble articulating why I do.   
But I figured it out. It’s nostalgia. So many of my good memories are tied to the fall. I liked the first day of school better than the last day, despite my love of summer—the first day marked a fresh start and new possibilities, including new classmates and the start-up of sports. In my mind, fall is more about new starts than spring is. 
When I was a kid, fall in Massachusetts brought a whole new spectacle of color that my previous home in California didn’t have. In Massachusetts, I lived in a small beach town that was rich with history. There is something about all those historical signs and landmarks with bright autumn leaves as their backdrop--I don’t think they have the same force in the other seasons.
And, probably like most people, I love the changing colors of the fall. I was driving through windy, wooded roads in Connecticut a couple of weeks ago, in late September, and reddish orange colors had just begun to touch the tips of the green trees. It was beautiful, but I wished I could see what it would be like in a month or so, when it would be ablaze in reds, oranges, and yellows. When I lived in Connecticut, driving on the Merritt Parkway in the fall meant a tour through a tunnel of vivid color, leaving the leaves swirling behind you.

Fall is homecoming. In high school, fall was spending  mornings at cross country meets--running over grassy paths still cool and wet with dew, and seeing everyone's breath hanging in the air--and crisp afternoons at football games. The homecoming parade through the town, the floats and dresses and tiaras, and the locals coming out to cheer on the football team.
In college, September meant starting classes I had picked out and looked forward to, and the start of rowing season, reuniting with my teammates and anticipating all the rivers and lakes we’d drive to and row on in the coming months, before the ice forced us off the water in Michigan. We’d spend that in-between-warm-and-cold weather on the river, surrounded by trees changing their leaves into brighter colors. And the University of Michigan campus is prettiest in the fall—only in part because many of the leaves decorating it are maize.
In Ann Arbor, I always loved going to football games—in a gorgeous stadium that fits 112,000 people and whose steps I ran up and down countless times as part of crew practice—even though I’m not the biggest football fan. But after college, I married a devout Michigan football fan who used to attend those games as an infant, carried by his parents. Going to Ann Arbor for fall football games is now a family tradition that we are continuing with our kids.
The homecoming football game is my favorite, not so much because it’s my own homecoming as a Michigan grad and athlete but because, at the game, they make a big deal of recognizing much older former players, cheerleaders, and band members—some well into their elderly years. Sometimes, a little grandpa will do a backflip in the end zone.

300+ alumni band members at homecoming
At yesterday's homecoming game, the alumni band included someone who graduated in the 1940s.  In our corner of the end zone, one gray-haired alumni cheerleader who did not look like he was capable of acrobatics held another one over his head, upside down in a handstand. 

Fall also owns Halloween, which brings back memories of trick-or-treating with my brother--and rationing the candy for weeks  afterward--and carving pumpkins with my family. We'd dig through pumpkin guts, carve our masterpieces, and roast the seeds. And, here in Michigan, cider mills are a big thing. At the cider mill, the kids crunch through the leaves and marvel at the different sizes and shapes of pumpkins and gourds ("Mommy, look at THIS one!") before settling on pumpkins to take home and carve, and then everybody devours warm doughnuts and cider afterward.

Summer, I hope you don't mind my infatuation with fall. I'll always come back to you. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Connections That Last

This summer, since moving back to Michigan, I’ve been able to reconnect with several people I hadn’t seen since high school or college. Last weekend, I got to spend a day with a bunch of college rowing teammates, some of whom I see regularly and others whom I hadn’t seen since we graduated. It is always good to see old friends, but when they left, I felt uplifted in a way that is hard to articulate.

Only part of it is nostalgia and reliving the memories. Another part of it is that they are amazing people doing amazing things. One of them is training to swim across the Straits of Mackinac, next to a perfectly good bridge that normal people might run across. Another left her job to travel around the world with her husband for months, exploring new places and making up the itinerary as they go along.

I think the biggest part of it is that all these people knew me well when I was growing up and growing into my adult self. My teammates and I shared the incredible experience of rowing and practicing together every day, pushing our own physical and mental limits, watching each other try and fail and succeed, and giving each other a gentle nudge (or a swift kick in the ass) when we thought it was appropriate. We often practiced early in the morning, which meant we were out rowing in the dark, slicing through the water as the sun rose above us.

It was not always perfect. I was closer to some teammates than others, and of course we fought and annoyed each other sometimes, much like family. But we always supported each other. And I think that’s why our little reunion was so comforting. It’s that the people who knew and believed in me years ago still do, and I still know and believe in them, even though it’s no longer about rowing.

In some life experiences, your character is laid bare, whether you like it or not. This is what I shared with my teammates. The people who see you through these experiences, especially if they experience these things with you, know you in ways other people don’t—like coworkers you see every day but have never seen you cry or laugh until you’re shaking. My teammates and other people who saw me through meaningful moments in my life, even the ones who annoyed me, had a large part in making me who I am.

My husband was on the men’s rowing team, and we all knew each other from competing around the country together. Recently, he caught up with one of his teammates, whom I hadn’t even talked to since college. When my husband told him what I did for a living, he said it was exactly what he envisioned me doing post-college. That was also strangely comforting—that someone who knew me back then thinks that what I’m doing now fits me.

This is not to say that I have a strong bond with everyone from my formative high school and college years. With some people I used to be friends with, we now have little left in common, and there isn’t much to say that’s not about the weather or how old our kids are. But with others, I’ve discovered that we have even more in common now than we used to, and there is some wavelength we connect on that wasn’t there before.

I am thankful for these connections—both the ones that have been sparked anew and the ones that were always strong, even if they went silent and unused for years.