Autumn Has Its Compensations

I am fascinated by the pull of the seasons, how deeply rooted my reactions are. After several cold, rainy days, it’s autumn. Suddenly, I want meatloaf and baked potatoes and think about roasted vegetables. I research soups to warm up with instead of the salads I ate all summer. After sampling two mealy peaches, I’m done with my favorite fruit and turn to apples without a backward glance—Ginger Gold and Sweetangoes from the farmers market.

In April, 52 degrees would have made me giddy with delight, but in late September, I’m shivering and resisting, while pulling on long sleeves and calculating how many layers the day calls for.

The steep walk up 50th St. warmed me up and I was grateful that my hands weren’t cold anymore. Only ten days ago, it was 90 degree and humid. I was sticky with sweat during a daily walk and walked after dark because it was cooler.

It’s barely light at 7:00 a.m. and dark by 7:30 p.m. I know we’ll have more warm sunny days this fall. But summer—the long, hot, sunny days on end that I love—that summer is over.

Autumn has its compensations (Apples! Turning leaves! Bonfires!) but underneath it all, is an instinctive awareness that winter’s coming with its cold dark days.

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Dormant

Usually I’m philosophical about the below zero temperatures and snow we have every winter in Minnesota. The deep freeze is a time to stay indoors, be less social, and avoid unnecessary errands. Mother Nature pushes me to slow down, maybe be more introspective, read more. It can also be a time of creative planning (gardens, vacations, workouts), organizing or clearing out (closets, photos, files) and tackling household projects I wouldn’t bother with when the weather is nice.

For a little while that feels OK, maybe even good, as if I’m in tune with a natural rhythm, akin to a Circadian rhythm. This is what I’m supposed to be doing now. It feels good to wear wooly socks, make soups and stews, and settle in to watch movies or stream new TV series.

But with the persistent, longer-than-usual spell of extreme cold weather this winter, I feel as if I’ve shifted from slowing down in a pleasant, restorative way to being dormant. On pause. Hiding, like a tulip bulb buried deep in the ground. Waiting for enough time to pass so I can come back to life again. Hunkered down. I’ve been getting restless with so much reading and TV, and I’m trying hard not to register the waiting, which makes it worse.

I’ve lived in Minnesota long enough to know this spell will pass. The temperatures are already moderating. The days are getting longer. The torpor of these frozen days will dim so much that by August I’ll wonder if I imagined the feeling. But I didn’t.

The Daily Slide

November 27 was a hectic day filled with appointments, work, weekend cleanup and errands. Near sixty degree temperatures lured me into thinking the gentle fall weather would last. When darkness began I apologized to the dog for missing our daily walk and promised him a long one the next day.

Within twenty-four hours drizzle, falling temperatures, freezing rain and snow changed the scene. Ice turned the roadway into a glossy slip and slide that the UPS truck found difficult to navigate. Dog and I found footing dangerous at the end of the driveway and turned back to the house.

Winter is not my friend. Warm sweaters and cozy evenings are great, but aside from occasional beautiful days I’ve lost my enthusiasm for the package deal. I prefer green grass and gardens filled with flowers to brown sticks poking through white and hothouse daisies purchased with the groceries. I’d rather open the office window for fresh air than fill a humidifier.

What I dread most is ice. Nothing undermines free exercise faster than the possibility of losing traction at any moment. If the mail vehicle, a neighbor’s SUV and the UPS truck are having trouble, the dog and I are not heading out. Even walking like a penguin can’t make everything enjoyable and safe.

The penguin walk instructions offered in the lobby of a family member’s condo building, is one of the personal affronts of the icy season. With feet apart and turned slightly outward, lower your center of gravity over one leg, and waddle around the sidewalks. Pretend others don’t notice your strange effort to stay upright.

Being resigned to months of dressing in layers of black outdoor clothing with leather boots is enough. The indignity of a daily slide or penguin walking is undeserved punishment.

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Steering Out of the Doldrums

For the last two weeks, I’ve struggled with the late winter doldrums. I’m ready for spring, but Winter. Just. Won’t. Go. In sailing usage, “doldrums” refer to a low-pressure area around the equator where the winds disappear and sailing vessels could be trapped for days or weeks. That sums up my feeling: I’m becalmed, waiting for spring’s energy to blow my life back on course.

I’ve been listless and had trouble mustering enthusiasm for new projects. Consequently, I’ve elevated my knack for wasting time to new heights (that should probably be “new lows”)—

  • Sleeping longer than normal (my body resists getting up in the dark again)
  • Reading mysteries (my go-to escapist read) instead of more challenging literature
  • Researching facial moisturizers (Seriously?!? That might deserve half an hour of my time, not the two hours I actually gave it.)

This is familiar territory, so I go easy on myself when I recognize the pattern. In fact, that’s part of the cure—recognizing and accepting that I’m in the doldrums.

Dissatisfaction and restlessness prod me to analyze where my time actually goes (this is pretty geeky, but it works for me). At first, I neutrally list how I’ve spent my time recently.

That brings to mind a few things I ought to do (wash the kitchen floor, clean the bathrooms). I cross out those—they’re definitely not mood-lifters!

Soon, my mind shifts from chores to daydreaming about what would be fun to do. A fresh little breeze of possibilities stirs. I begin a new list.

For years, I’ve recalibrated my priorities by regularly asking myself: Am I living the life I want to lead? How can I tinker with my free time or refocus my efforts to be sure my work and family commitments are satisfying?

I’m taking a new tack and moving forward again.

Fall Meditation

Every year fall delights me. Nondescript shrubs and trees surprise me with their dazzling colors. The cool air and shorter days are visceral reminders that we are not simply brains attached to keyboards and phones, but human animals subject to the rhythms of nature. Being part of a cycle that has been going on every year for eons restores my perspective. I hope these photos refresh you, too.

The pleasing artistry of primary colors—coreopsis, salvia, and burning bush

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The exuberance of neighborhood Halloween decorations

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The surprise of seeing three construction workers on a seven-story building across from the hospital cafeteria

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The peaceful beauty of a golden tree arching over Minnehaha Creek

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Winter will be here soon enough, but for now, I’m immersing myself in everything this fall offers.