I am a California baby raised primarily in the northern Midwest. For most of my life, fall meant a clear change in the seasons.
In childhood, fall meant leaving the city for field trips with my Detroit classmates in the orchards of the Michigan countryside, driving through different northern regions to see the colorful changing foliage, and jumping into leaf piles that my dad created in our front yard.
In adulthood, fall meant camping trips to state parks, and warm days with rapidly dropping evening temperatures that made campfires a necessity. Weekends were spent at fall festivals complete with chicken and dumplings, funnel cakes, and the necessary hot chocolate. I’ve always said that my favorite season is the change in seasons, but if I’m being perfectly honest, my favorite season is most certainly fall.
Then three years ago, tired of cold northern winters and snow that never seemed to go away, my husband and I moved our Midwest-raised family down to southeast Texas. In so many ways, the Houston area couldn’t be more different from the northern homes we shared over the years. We moved south in the middle of July, just as the already hot summer temperatures were starting to go from uncomfortable to unbearable, occasionally making us question our decision to move to the Lone Star State.
But as we settled into our new southern lives, we eagerly anticipated a winter without a driveway to clear. Without perpetually icy sidewalks that turned walks with the dog into visits to the chiropractor. Without scraping ice chunks off of our windshields or running space heaters in our laundry room to keep the pipes from freezing.
And while that first Thanksgiving was unusually cold and rainy, by Christmas Day I was sporting capris and a tank top while sitting on patio furniture next to a crystal clear pool that remained a pretty blue all year long. After a lifetime of cold winters, we had to adjust our seasonal expectations, and while our brains were prepared for the hot temperatures stretching into October, our hearts were not.
The calendar says that it is fall, but I still don’t believe it. My students may have celebrated Homecoming, Starbucks may have brought back Pumpkin Spice-flavored everything, and all the local stores may be advertising Halloween gear, but my sweat-soaked clothing from a 9:00 p.m. run tell a much different story.
Truth be told, I really don’t miss winter. Sure, there is something magical about sitting in a cozy living room and watching big, fluffy flakes fall from the sky to lay a clean, white blanket over the dry, dead ground. But then I remember that eventually I had to leave that warmth to dig out cars or drive to the store, and I say a little prayer of thanks for not having to do that anymore.
But while I don’t miss winter, I do miss that three- to four-week period of seasonal perfection that is known as the Midwest fall.
I miss the canopy of red, orange, and gold as I feel the crunch of fallen leaves underneath my feet. I miss the smell of dry leaves, evening bonfires, and fall festival foods being cooked outside in 50-degree weather. I miss watching little heads pop out of huge piles of colorful foliage, tiny leaf bits clinging to their hair and clothing. I miss that short period when a cozy hoodie is the perfect protection from the early fall chill, before it becomes necessary to pull out winter coats and hats and gloves.
For three to four weeks, I’m jealous of my northern friends who are throwing on hoodies while I’m watching tropical storms form in the Atlantic, praying they go north instead of west. I’m jealous of pictures of the first backyard bonfires of the season, while I’m still fighting off the mosquitoes in my backyard that have yet to be killed by an evening chill.
But then I remember that pre-Halloween, 12-inch snowfall my freshman year in Nebraska. I think about the fact that my kids, regardless of the precipitation in the atmosphere, will be able to trick-or-treat without heavy coats, hats, and mittens. While my friends’ kids are jumping in leaf piles, my kids are still jumping into our backyard pool. Instead of a potentially cold late-October camping trip, we’re looking forward to snow-free southern camping for both Thanksgiving and Christmas break.
My husband and I have comfortably settled into life in the south and we have learned how to cope with the summer heat, but I miss fall. I will always miss fall.
So, as you throw on your hoodie and jeans, and sip on your hot cider or hot chocolate while warming your hands and face next to a roaring bonfire, think about your southern brothers and sisters and thank God for the beauty of the seasons.
And I promise to be thinking of you as I am comfortably camping and hiking in the Texas desert during Christmas break.