In Santa Barbara, fall tends to take on the temperament of a stereotypical freshman at her first big college party. Things go from hot and heavy to cold and biting, warm and cozy to under-dressed and shivering, in the time it takes to make a lap around someone’s overcrowded living room. Regardless, nothing is certain. And just when it looks like things might stay stable for more than a minute, the wind picks up, and the weather becomes nothing more than just another great big tease - promising sunshine and delivering sweater weather, tempting with turtleneck temperatures in the morning and failing to follow through with an appropriately autumnal afternoon.
Nonetheless, fall is still one of my favorite times of year, rivaled only by the point in late spring when June gloom begins to give way to summertime sunshine. I guess I’m just a sucker for seasonal changes; which is odd, given that I grew up in a part of the country known for its temperate climate and seemingly permanent sunshine.
Maybe it’s the fact that I was born in New York. Maybe it’s the ghostly glamour of my parents’ coat closet - our house’s only nod to the fact that both my mother and father were born and bred in a place where luxurious leathers, fluffy furs, and trench coats straight out of the rain-slicked sets of all my favorite film noirs were a necessity and not just a fun fashion statement. Or maybe it’s just that, after almost twenty years spent in some sort of school, I’ve come to associate fall with fresh starts and new beginnings; just as the beginning of summer has always been inextricably intertwined with feelings of freedom and frivolity.
But, the feeling that fall’s crisp air and beach-side breezes herald the beginning of something new is not entirely a construct created by the fine folks behind that whole public education thing. In fact, according to Wikipedia, ancient peoples from the Israelites to the American Indians have always marked autumn as the start of a new year. And, since autumn is the season of the primary harvest, it has historically been considered a time of great bounty and beauty.
Of course, autumn has other connotations too. That same trusty Wikipedia article quotes Rilke’s poem “Autumn Day,” about the pending gloom of wintertime heralded by the blowing leaves, as evidence of fall’s more multi-layered associations. In one particularly poetic line, the wise souls behind the page put it this way, “Skies turn grey, and people turn inward, both physically and mentally.”
Maybe that’s why I really like autumn. Unlike the sunny-but-stagnant superficiality of summertime, fall is full of the potential for personal growth. Summer days are of the long, lazy, luxurious variety, and even if you’re working right through them, there is a collective consciousness that says you should also be taking your time, moving languidly, and generally focusing on soaking up the sun while it lasts. All noble sentiments to be sure, but not the stuff you want to center an entire existence around.
Fall, on the other hand, is a time devoted almost entirely to being productive. There are school schedules to get straight, books to buy, boots to pull out of the back of your closet, costumes to plan, Thanksgiving dinners to cook, and creative carving ideas to come up with. There’s a lot of work to be done, and a crisp breeze to clear out the cranial cobwebs created by an entire season of sunshine-soaking can often push you towards even more productivity.
It’s a time for reevaluating everything - from your winter wardrobe to whether or not you really want to devote eight hours a week to an introductory geology class. It’s a time for renewing your spirit and enjoying the bountiful harvest that manifests itself in places as diverse as the downtown Farmer’s Market and the Goleta movie theater, both of which boast some of the best products of the year within their autumnal environs. Halloween is right around the corner, pumpkin spice lattes are back on the menu at Starbucks, and the air is brisk in the best possible way. It’s the one season that really seems to be centered around the student, and it’s always been the time of the year when I’m most excited to read, research, listen, learn, study, and go to school.
All in all, it’s a time that’s as much about celebrating as it is about contemplating. Particularly when, like myself, your collegiate career is coming to a close, and last week may very well have been the last first day of school you’ll ever experience. So here’s to fall. She may be temperamental, and she may even lead me on in the morning and leave me shivering at night, but she is still one of my favorite times of the year. And one I intend to take full advantage of while I still can.