For a while there, I didn’t think we were going to have an autumn. Sometimes in Chicago we don’t. The summer stretches out languidly into mid-October and brushes up against an early winter. The leaves go from green to ground overnight. Fleeces and light jackets stay tucked away in the closet until February when we need to wear every layer we can beneath our winter coats.
Fall is a fragile season, especially in Chicago. Like its symbolic colored leaves, it hovers precariously in the air, easily swept away by the first chilled wind from the north. Which sucks, because fall is my favorite season. Winter is miserable. Spring is worse, a cold, rain-soaked slog that seems like it will never end in summer. Summer in Chicago is rapturous, but there are at least four weeks of tropical heat and humidity that leave me lying awake all night, soaked in sweat. Chicagoans seem to like that, but I grew up in the subtropical Deep South and, honestly, moved to this frozen wasteland of a city to get away from the heat.
Autumn, on the other hand, is pleasant temperatures; it’s trees burned red, yellow, and orange; pumpkin, corn, butternut squash, and chestnuts; it’s the season of my favorite holidays. There’s my birthday, a day which is wonderful because it is dedicated to me and me alone and I can do whatever I want. There’s Halloween, a day dedicated to my two favorite things in the world: monsters and candy. And there’s Thanksgiving, a day dedicated simply to gorging yourself, and is like Christmas without the hype, inescapable music blaring from every orifice of our consumerist society, or the desperate scramble to figure out what present to buy your third cousin.
Fall came late to Chicago this year, but for Ayako and me, this is the year it came twice, once early and once late. It was autumn in Alaska when we were there back in August (that’s the weirdness of this year: I had autumn in August and summer in October). Being so far north, the vast majority of trees in Alaska are pine and spruce. There are a few birch and aspen trees in the taiga forests that had turned a brilliant yellow, but mostly the woods there are ever green. The true autumn colors are found not in the trees, but on the tundra, in the small willow and birch bushes that grow atop the permafrost. In the summer, they’re a carpet of green, but in the early Alaskan autumn, they turn a brilliant red, creating crimson fields rolling endlessly toward the horizon. It’s a beautiful sight.
So, I’m happy. We had a long summer and autumn came twice. Now winter is coming, but at least it only comes once. I hope.