Autumn Days Are Welcome

Below is my title: (published on first day of fall)

Autumn Living

Although Autumn is legally a three-month season, it truly only lasts a couple weeks in any one place. A quick change of weather and then it's pre-winter.

Snowbirds miss out on the seasons. That's what we permanent residents of south Florida called the people who moved down in October to spend time until the weather warmed in Wisconsin or Quebec or some other exotic northern locale. They hauled trailers or drove motor homes or flew down and dusted off their second house.

We used to make fun of them trying to avoid seasons we saw only on the news. Homestead had a few 50 degree days but the sun never went far enough south for a change of seasons. Every day was the same: bright morning sun going to partly cloudy in the afternoon with thunderstorms during the rainy "season." Our lives were marked only by man-made dates such as Christmas or daylight savings time. We didn't have natural changes. Leaves stayed on trees and mosquitoes buzzed. Even the length of day didn't change much.

I liked swimming all year, but when school started, I missed autumn. We'd been stationed at Air Force bases in England and Kansas so I remembered crisp skies, burning leaves, and frosty mornings. One Saturday in Wichita, I spent 3 hours watching a line of birds head south from horizon to horizon until I had to go eat supper.

After high school, I headed north, eager for change. I summered in the Catskills getting to know a whole different type of forest. Fall was spent in downtown D.C. six blocks from the White House. Even in the city, leaves shimmered gloriously. Brown and orange oak, red maple, and yellow ash leaves floated through the air and piled up on lawns. I bought a warm jacket and sat in the park watching squirrels race to gather hickory and beech nuts.

I have spent every fall since in the north. St. Louis has an exquisite collection of foliage along the Mississippi. My most enjoyable job was picking apples one September in New Hampshire. Twenty miles from the ocean, we could see colored trees stretching all the way to sparkling blue water while sitting in a tree on top of Durham hill.

When people find out I grew up in a subtropical paradise, they ask why I left. I always say for the change of seasons and mention that I'm only asked that question in winter, never during the other seasons. The shimmering yellow aspen and bugling elk in the Rockies are pleasurable to any one who visits. Yet knowing you are going to stay through the blizzards adds to autumn's wistfulness in the same way that spring is more glorious to those who watch the snow finally melt off the dead grasses than to those who fly back from Phoenix in time to see the prairie bloom.

My favorite fall was a long one beginning on Mount Katahdin in September and ending in the mountains of north Georgia in November. I hitchhiked down the U.S., sleeping in campgrounds already closed for the winter, to follow the changing colors.

Perhaps I'm not that much different from the snowbirds. I just have another seasonal preference. I know a forever autumn could get too stressful from the continuing sad death of summer and the always impending fear of winter. And not staying in my own place to harvest then clean the garden may dilute the wonder of fall. But if I could live in only one season, autumn would be the one.

Columns in the Fort Collins Coloradoan by Mike Moxcey