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. 

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