It’s that time of year when Mother Nature’s palette shifts from soft summer hues of blue and green to dazzling autumnal shades of scarlet and saffron. We admire her handiwork, then rake up her mess. There is a crispness in the air that soothes the senses; the heat and humidity of summer is a distant memory, the bitter cold of winter lies in wait. We drift lazy as smoke through an in-between time carried along by a wind that rustles the brittle brown corn stalks and the off-key music of hungry geese busily gleaning the stubble in the fields.
It’s that time of year when we turn back history’s clock to watch tall ships come sailing up the river, graceful reminders of a time when wind and tide and canvas ruled the world. It’s also that time of year when we turn back our bedside clocks to gain an extra hour of Sunday sleep. I don’t know about you but that first day of five o’clock darkness sends an unwelcome shock to the circadian rhythm of my body clock.
It’s that time of year when majestic full moons have evocative names like Harvest Moon, Hunter’s Moon, Moon of Falling Leaves.
It’s that time of year when kids turn into dinosaurs or storm troopers or fairy princesses. That time of year when jack-o’-lanterns glow on porches, ghosts flit through the trees, witches stir their cauldrons and skeletons rattle their ivory bones.
It’s that time of year when everything’s in play: baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. If you’re lucky enough to have a dog in the World Series fight, you’re short on sleep and mesmerized by two teams chasing history. One of these two will elevate an entire city to dizzying heights, the other will break hearts.
It’s that time of year when fires crackle and woodsmoke scents the air. That time of year when the sun is low and shadows are long.
It’s that time of year when we turn over the closet. When long pants replace shorts, sweaters replace t-shirts, socks and boots replace flip-flops. Scarves, gloves, and hats wait anxiously in the wings.
For Shakespeare, it is “That time of year thou mayest in me behold/When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang/Upon those boughs which shake against the cold…” For Rilke, it is that time of year when “It is time, Lord, to let the great summer go/Lay your long shadow on the sundials/And over the harvest piles let the winds blow.” For Keats, it is “the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.”
It is that time of year when abundance collides with melancholy, when the promise of youth and growth succumbs to mourning and the inevitability of old age. That time of year when what was alive and awake goes to sleep, sometimes forever.
It’s that time of year when we retreat to wait out the gathering darkness; when we take stock of what’s in the larder; when we patch the chinks and repair the breaks. It’s that time of year when we make preparations for what we know is coming.
And you know what else? It’s that time of year I love the most.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” was released in June 2018. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com