Here you are, September. Back home, we always started school the last Wednesday in August, so by this point I’d have gauged everyone else’s clothes and found mine wanting, headed back out to KMart for the notebooks the teachers wanted us to have, and lost whichever pen was my favorite in my back-to-school trousseau. It would still be too hot for corduroy and cable knits, and the butterflies and hope for a true fresh start would already be gone.
These days we’re back to eating dinner with the light on in the dining room instead of cringing while soccer-coach whistles interrupt our conversation. Only the sugar maples have started to change, and they have business to attend that I wouldn’t dare interrupt. Next week, school will start around here and Myron will have to go back to evading buses on his route to work along with the year-round dodging of suburban psycho-mommies who drink coffee, text, and discipline their children while driving. Most people feel a new zest when the temperatures come down and Starbucks brings back their pumpkin syrup and that crisp autumn smell hits the air. Not me. I headed south to get away from winter as soon as I was able.
Molly Lambert’s piece on This Recording today gets into the dread of it all:
I also knew nothing about the secret undertow of autumn’s nostalgia, which is DREAD. The trade-off for the beautiful natural spectacle of New England autumn is that it becomes New England winter. In California the fall crispness is just a prelude to more of the same during winter, but in most other places it acts as foreshadowing that within a couple of months it’ll be too cold to keep your eyes open outside. Fall nostalgia has a morbid undercurrent. The leaves are beautiful but they are dying. Back to school’s second self is Halloween. […] The future holds the possibility to be great or terrible, and since it has not yet occurred it remains simultaneously both. And so the flip side of anticipation is dread. You can anticipate good things happening with the seasonal change, but because you absolutely cannot predict in advance them there is also endless dread of worst case scenarios, even though the chance of every situation playing out nightmarishly is low.
Pennsylvania winters are not as bad as New England ones, but I’d venture that Ottawa’s are at least as severe and last longer. This past summer was an anomaly here; there’s a chance this winter might be, too. The lack of light and the bone-deep cold still make me unhappy—I can’t lie about that—but I’m better able to deal with that unhappiness after years of practice. You control what you can. You get proactive: I have a light box. I have a stack of books at the ready. I have a manuscript to keep me busy when it’s too ugly to go outside. I have a bus stop three minutes from my front door. When the light starts diminishing and morning wants to fold me back into its arms for three more hours of sleep, I can fight it. April is coming. Like a good friend I can’t see often enough, I miss it as soon as it goes away.