Originally published Sept. 20, 2007
WE’RE BOTH SHIVERING. Her, from chills. Me, from anticipation.
It happens every year around this time, sometimes in a moment so definitive and clear, you can write down the time.
You find yourself caught out in the dark one night — a dark that seems to arrive so much earlier, and descend so much faster, than even the night before.
You plunk into the Adirondack chair on the deck, where you’ve been perched all summer, in bright sunshine, to consume the morning coffee and newspaper, and feel a touch of dew against your shorts.
You look across the living room at 7 p.m. on a Sunday night and see your partner — or at least as much as you can see of someone who’s watching a football game on TV wearing a Marmot parka that’s zipped all the way up to the top — bracing herself.
It dawns on you: autumn.
“Should I turn on the furnace?” I asked the zippered one, hands thrust in her pockets, head sunk into her collar up to her nose.
“No,” she responds resolutely through at least two layers of the highest-quality living-room weather protection. “We have to wait until at least October.”
For most people, that’s probably the official start of fall — the ceremonial changing of the air filter, firing up of the furnace. Or the sacred relighting of the noneternal pilot-light flame in the gas fireplace.
Whatever moment suits you, or whichever one you honor, the point is this: It’s a moment. A real happening. A bookmark in time that you tend to remember.
That’s the magic of the dawn of autumn. It’s a seasonal gear change made by a cranky old worn-out clutch, not the smooth, seamless, hyperglide motion of spring to summer or fall to winter.
There’s no way to ease into fall. You get knocked there, on your backside, where you lie prone for a day or two, clutching for polar fleece with which to cover your naked parts.
You’ve got to love that. Or not, if you’re Emjay, who, having spent entirely too much sun-baking time in Florida and Colorado, is still undergoing the Great Adjustment. She sees the days grow shorter and hunkers in dread. I see the nights grow longer and feel my mood rise and bloom, like a reverse skunk cabbage.
I try to sympathize. But she’s not buying it, because she sees right through me, to the inextinguishable glee lurking beneath the surface. She either envies this, or just resents it. Who wouldn’t?
So I feel bad about that. But it can’t be helped. It’s a locals thing — a Northwest thing — that a lot of newcomers just never fully understand.
They don’t get how two otherwise like-minded people can go out for a walk at dusk on a Sunday night in mid-September, feel the cool moisture sweeping off the saltwater, hear the splashing of the season’s first minor mud puddles underfoot, sense the soft touch of those brave advance scouts for the falling-leaf squadrons, and come to completely opposite conclusions.
They can’t grasp the upside-down logic of embracing with open arms an entire half-year of cool, dark wetness. They don’t get the buzz of slipping into those Capilene long johns and old, comfy Sorels for the first time in six months. They can’t appreciate the beauty of a good old OR rain hat.
And that’s OK, because from a practical standpoint, they’re on the side of sanity. Clearly, there’s something abnormal — or at least maladjusted — about a mindset that welcomes blankets of fog, clumps of moss and cases of the damp shivers.
We’re all aware of this, and on the surface, have to admit it’s true. But we know that some part of us welcomes the fall. Loves it. Needs it.
Because you’re among friends here, admit it: Sometime in the last week or so, you literally felt the seasonal tipping point. And some part of you was jazzed.
Sure, the reasonable part of you tried to suppress it, reminding the illogical subconscious that nobody in their right mind embraces the clamato cocktail of wintry weather we sometimes endure around here.
And on a surface level, it probably was successful. “Yeah, it’s a bummer,” you said. “It’s gonna be a long time before things warm up again.”
But a half-hour later, away from the naysayers, with only you and the newly nipping evening chill around to share the conversation, you abandoned your pretense, reverted to who you really are and let your native soul do the talking.
And the only words you could find for the wind and the cool and the mist on your face and the delicious near-darkness were as unexpected as they were heartfelt.
“Welcome back, old friend.”