new Things I Ate in Cambodia: and autumn can't be stopped

Sunday, September 28, 2008

and autumn can't be stopped


Fall always used to be my least favorite season: it heralded the end of everything fun and good and the heinous beginning of sitting in classrooms, cold weather, and days that ended far too soon. I saw fall as a sinister harbinger of entropy, death, and decay: it reminded my younger self that certain forces existed in the universe that I could do nothing about and did not give much of a damn about me: I could stand in their way and shout at them to stop all I wanted and here they would come roaring in - oh how I resented it, watching red leaves fall by my window.

(I maintain I wrestled with delusions of omnipotence more then most kids do: I have never been all that good at moderation.)

There was the root of my problem with autumn. My sense of fall was twisted and discombobulated over the years, as I moved a bit and it is expressed differently in every location, takes on a new and divergent quality. To wit:

We have Florida, with ever-eternal palm trees, and the season brought on by pale and quivering old people putting on sweaters and complaining as they exist their Cadillacs (it is almost forty degrees out here, why the hell did I move here, I could be back in Long Island.)

My first conscious falls in Georgia: the trees turning classic colors, and I, a grade school conscript, shuffled off to school way too early to learn things I did not particularly care about, diving out to the woods to get an hour or two of salamander-hunting and exploration before the premature nighttime set in - yes, I did not love fall then. Halloween was the only bright spot: we would dress as vermin and zombies and conspire against innocent home-owners to avail ourselves of their candy. To fill a whole entire pillow case with candy was the impossible dream: I achieved it one year and imagined myself diving Scrooge McDuck like into a twisting and eternal sea of sugar, backstroking through cavities and electric-blue colored culinary bliss. I ended up eating candy on my ice cream all winter and gloating secretly, as if I had won the lottery.

Then Utah: Utah fall is defined by frost creeping closer and closer to the doorjamb, by quivering yellow aspens and the slackening of that dry and horrible Salt Lake City heat: you walk up the canyon and smoke fills the air from controlled burns, and it is classically American in and of itself. (Mormons will make damn certain of that, as they re-enact their state wide Norman Rockwell fantasy.) I learned to love fall a little then: it meant cooler hikes and voyages up leaf-sodden hills and the promise of powdery snow and snowboarding, an exotic novelty for a transported Southerner. I was an IRS agent one Halloween and a werewolf the next: I remember being pleased that it was assumed I was a boy because of my very werewolf-like aspect (well there must be female werewolves too?)

California fall: we have one in Sacramento, I swear we do: it comes on rather suddenly, the trees turning brownish and the palms cringing slightly as the mercury drops all the way to forty degrees on a nightly basis, that Western smoke filling the air. I love riding my bike down the parkway in fall in California: there's a particular stretch I flash by that always smells like coffee grounds and wet grass in the fall, and it is covered in freakish oak leaves bigger then my head. And fall is lovely indeed in Napa: the tourists thin out slightly and the oaks go verdant and golden as evening begins - one feels compelled by the universe to taste wine and make erudite comments about cheese.

Massachusetts Fall - The tourism industry in the Berkshires seems to exist because fall here is so glorious, and so it is, raging autumn colors juxtaposed against white buildings and white steeples and grazing, contented Holstein cows, as New Yorkers on weekend trips crowd small towns, looking up in wonder. Fall here is brief: three or four glorious weeks are granted and then winter begins, smashing and suffocating the life out of everything that was (helping you forget fall and summer ever were and ever shall be again.)

You walk to class through a curving storm of leaves; you crush them beneath your feet and bring blankets out in the evening to guard against the ever-arriving chill (and the chill in the air arrives so soon, as September is halfway through and dying, another thing I could never stop.) My first fall here: we drank handles of cheap rum in the parking lot behind the liquor store and listened to the river go by, watching leaves fall into it and wondering when we would be caught because it seemed inevitable, flouting regulations like we were: but you could lie on the hood of the car for hours it seemed and miss the cops, growing progressively drunker. (Why else go to college?)

I was so miserable last fall, I almost missed it: but I remember driving through Pittsfield, watching elderly boys schools and insane asylums and institutional buildings get blown about by leaves, perched on green hills - and I remember too, hitchhiking in futility and dampness at the bottom of the hill up to school, my thumb stuck out, looking up at the trees and noting and understanding not much more then a sudden, shocking expanse of yellow (you can see little chinks of electric blue sky, which grows outstandingly clear at that time of year.)

I would sit on a rock in the river and drink diet cream soda and wish desperately that I was somewhere else, wonder if I would escape with my sanity by the end of the year, because I was outstandingly unhappy.

(And I could not stop that either.)


And here I am waiting for another fall to arrive, one I am beginning to realize may never arrive, as I am here in another subtropical climate (that of my native state), where the lizards and palms and tourists remain knobby kneed and basking straight through to spring.

Fall here is just beginning and it is lovely so far: the searing and sticky heat of summer dries out and recedes, slightly, and you stand in the afternoon waiting for the eternally-late street car and even enjoy it a little, as the wind whips around you (carrying the scent of frying catfish and ripened trash from the restaurant next door, a juxtaposition so New Orleans it could make a native cry), and you find yourself thinking, "Is this as bad as it gets?"

It feels like benediction or a reward. I would lie in my chilled bed in my dorm room in Massachusetts and hear the ice pellets bang against my window and think to myself "If I can make it through this just this once I shall go to a very warm climate and never worry about this again," and so I did, I'm here, I'm warm and shouldn't get much colder.

Yet I wonder what I will do with all these coats.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My fall resolution is to try and enjoy it this year instead of whining. Also extends to winter. We had a moment of rain this morning - literally a moment - so it's coming and as you say "can't be stopped."