Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Why I Missed Autumn (And Why You Did, Too)

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First: About November in Particular
Autumn in September and October is colorful and wonderful, but November can be another story. Bare November days don't frighten me anymore, but at one time I found them repressive. Now, I can enjoy their particular beauty (which Robert Frost elucidates precisely in his poem, "My November Guest," featured in my latest newsletter. If you aren't on my subscriber list, you can access the issue HERE.)

I seem to remember a preponderance of grey gloomy days from Novembers in my youth, though now I think some of that gloom was because I lived in Queens, New York. Not the endless, drab row-house Queens Hollywood loves to portray (which makes up only a tiny fraction of what the county is like), but in the last small-town outside of New York City within Queens County--College Point. This is to say it wasn't because my surroundings were tenement houses or gloominess--on the contrary, College Point was mostly middle class and had the houses with backyards to prove it. Homes were close together by country standards, but our home featured a driveway on both sides of the house, both of which were framed by flower beds and neighboring green yards. Our back yard was about 1/4 acre. (Despite what you see on television, much of Queens is still like this.)   

Let me detour on a short history lesson: When I was a child and teenager College Point was still a small town. This was mostly because it was cushioned on three sides by the East Bay and had only three roads in--or out--two of which would flood after a good rain. In retrospect, these roads (harrowing if you were on a school or city bus that had to navigate a passage without getting stuck) were what kept us isolated. The mushrooming of other portions of Queens County into Astoria look-alikes (read: mini Manhattans) was held at bay for the near two decades of my life spent there. In contrast, the last time I was in College Point (summer of 2013), I kept saying, "What happened to Bedford Falls?" It now seemed more like Pottersville. The old College Point had vanished. 

In any case, Novembers were often gloomy then. I used to marvel that the great blue skies and fluffy clouds of September and October could disappear into the grey oblivion of gloomy November. As the days darkened, my spirits seemed to sink with them. New York winters seemed long and dark as well.

Nevertheless, as an adult, I often feel that I never enjoy the seasons as I did as a child, including Autumn even in November.  Yesterday, November 10th, the weather was unseasonably warm, and the sky a cheery blue. The radio forecaster warned that this would be the last of the warm weather for now, so I purposed to take my daily tea break in the yard to enjoy it. Sitting there, hardly hearing the sound of children's voices wafting over from a neighbor's property, it occurred to me that once again I was feeling as though I'd missed the season.

This didn't make sense, exactly.

As a gardener, I'd gotten to spend a few wonderful days cleaning out my garden, chopping the languishing frost-tipped greens to put  back into the beds to nourish next year's soil. I'd harvested the very last of the year's squash and tomatoes, reluctantly saying goodbye to the delight of fresh produce, but happy to have had these days to play in the dirt before winter. We'd also gone apple picking--twice--a definite must for Autumn in my case, if one is to try and be true to childhood's rhythms.   The accompanying smells of cinnamon and nutmeg filled the house, we ate homemade (Paleo) apple pies, and I infused the house with yet more of the heavenly scent by dehydrating a good amount of the 60 lbs of apples we picked, after sweetening them with a sprinkling of cinnamon and xylitol*. My daughter and I collected a respectable amount of pumpkins, and we even did a pumpkin craft when she had a friend sleep over. (See picture.)

Grace's owly pumpkin
So, in other words, I'd done my time. I'd been outdoors. I'd 'oohed and aaahed' at the fall colors on drives about the countryside. I closed up the summer backyard accoutrements, we'd covered the pool, and my husband was sealing up doors and windows to be winter ready. I'd even sat out on the pool deck in the afternoon sun just to admire the huge oaks around the property and the other beauties of the season.

So why was I still feeling like I'd missed it?

Second: About Autumns of Childhood, in Particular
As I sat outside, the sound of the children's laughter--one of whom was my daughter, as she was playing with friends--penetrated my jaded mind, and it hit me: I couldn't reclaim the feeling of being outdoors in the fall as I had when I was a child for the simple reason that I'm no longer one. I got kicked out of the club somewhere along the line, you might say, and there is no going back. You can't renew your membership in that one. I could sit outside for three hours and it wouldn't begin to echo the Autumns of my childhood because then, one hour would have been spent with my best friend Juni, as we hunted out newly fallen chestnuts hiding in the brown crunchy leaves; we'd pry them from their green, prickly houses for our collection. (There is nothing quite like extracting a beautiful shiny new chestnut from its casing. It felt to us little different, I'm sure, than a diver feels upon finding a pearl--though not quite as rare.)

The second hour would have been spent by walking and talking, kicking at leaves, making a pile of them, perhaps, or having a game of hand-ball in the schoolyard mid-way between the block and a half that separated my house from hers. Sometimes we'd walk down to the town park and traverse the paved trail that followed the rocky water's edge. It was fenced, keeping you safely off the rocks, but we had been known to find an opening in that fence and have a heck of a time balancing along the jutting--and treacherous-- rocks until we'd gotten clear to the other side of the park--where the fence abruptly ended. We might stop at the playground in that park and hit the swings, perhaps the monkey bars, too. By the time we got back home, just before dusk, our hands and feet were deliciously cold, and our cheeks red and frosty. THAT is how you enjoy an autumn day. 

Nowadays, I may be outside to do yard work, rake leaves, clean a garden, or even sit and admire the trees and sky, but I'll tell you something: It isn't the same. 

How did I miss Autumn? I missed it by growing up. And you, probably, did too.

What do you think? Is Autumn anything like that of your younger days? What do you do to enjoy the fleeting splendor of the season?  Leave a comment and I'll choose one person to win a copy of one of my books--my choice. Winner will be chosen using random.org, and will receive a copy of EITHER Before the Season Ends, The House in Grosvenor Square, OR The Country House Courtship.  

*Xylitol --a natural, diabetic safe sweetener used as a safer alternative to sugar. I use it as part of a healthy Paleo diet.

 Linore Rose Burkard is best known for writing historical regency romance. In addition to writing, she is a writing workshop instructor, homeschooling mother of five, gardener, Paleo cook, and reader. Subscribe to Linore's mailing list at http://www.LinoreBurkard.com.