Thursday, 21 September, 3:30 PM
The post was on Instagram: a gorgeous seaside photograph, the image drenched in sunset. A lone figure stood looking at the ocean, her back to the camera. The caption: “Goodbye, summer.”
This was a month ago, maybe more. That time when college students return to campus, but nearly a month before my daughter returned to high school.
Still, the Starbucks was selling pumpkin spice again.
And in the grocery store that same week, one-fourth of the magazine facings in the check-out line advertised autumn: soup, pumpkins, the “perfect fall decor.”
All of it felt too soon to me. Just a tad on the early side.
But that was weeks ago, before Tuesday, when a chance encounter with a wreath on sale (just a short detour from my errand to the cat food) found me bringing home both the wreath and a pair of somewhat autumnal pillows.
“I’m going to decorate for fall,” I told Everett, to which he responded that fall didn’t begin until Thursday.
Which is today. I had already wished Bill a Happy First Day of Fall when I googled the equinox and learned that, this year, fall begins on the 22nd, which is tomorrow.
And which is fine. Today I have cleaned the bathrooms and sorted laundry and had a lovely visit with my daughter-in-law. Between these things, research, writing, and the gym, the decorating will have to wait until tomorrow.
When I was teaching, I was annually annoyed by the school calendar’s eclipsing summer. It was hot as blazes out, the locusts’ song filling the air. But that return to school felt like fall nonetheless.
When I was growing up, my next-door neighbor had grown children of her own. She was past the days of packing lunches and waving children to their bus stop. She didn’t work outside her home. But she still felt the encroachment of the school year. I’ll never forget her saying it: “The shadows always seem longer on the first day the school buses come.”
Back in my classroom in mid-August, prepping for my students’ arrival, I saw the trees outside standing listless in the heat and reminded myself that it was still summer. Just because I had to be in the school building all day didn’t mean that summer had ended. Summer wasn’t actually over until the latter part of September, academic calendars notwithstanding.
I told my children we would pack our bathing suits and towels in the car and go directly to the pool after school. We would be driving right past it, anyway. Why not change our clothes there and go for a swim and enjoy what was left of a summer day before it was time to head home for dinner?
This was my hope and plan every year, especially in our earliest years at school together, before soccer practice and games began dictating our plans for us. Which was fine.
Recently Emma reminded me that we did it once: we managed to go straight from school to pool, and I was glad to hear it. She told me this just a few days ago, and despite the time lapse, despite having forgotten it myself, I still felt a little triumphant: we had managed once to eke some summer out of the school year. Well done, us.
“The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer’s ending, a sad, monotonous song. ‘Summer is over and gone,’ they sang. ‘Over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.'” – E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web
That little gem of a novel– one of my all-time favorites– tracks life on a farm, and in so doing, tracks the seasons. It has to. An agrarian culture necessarily lives with an eye on the sky and a finger on the pulse of these greater changes, the shift from winter to spring, summer to fall.
But most of us in my neck of the woods don’t match their everyday actions to the changes in season. Unless, of course, there’s a hurricane.
The difference between today and tomorrow, between all the days since March 20th of this year and now, has everything to do with the earth’s revolution around the sun and its knack of leaning in a perpetual tilt. These factors combined mean that tomorrow at 4:02 EST, the sun will pass directly over the celestial equator.
Our days have been growing shorter since the summer solstice on June 21st. Tomorrow the days will only continue to grow shorter. But for the day, the amount of sunlight in the northern and southern hemispheres will be exactly the same.
And if I am able to get my research and writing done, I will pull my fall decorations off their shelf in our storage room and place them strategically around the house.
I like fall.
But there is something about summer, isn’t there? I think that, more than the holidays, more, even, than the birthdays of my family, summer works for me like the hinge of the year. I mark many things by the before and after of summer, the “this” summer and “last.”
I remember thinking in middle school about those phrases. “This summer” meant now, but during the first few weeks of school, at the very least, it also meant the summer that had only just recently been with us. I remember wondering when it was, exactly, that we went from “this summer,” (as in: “this summer we went to Disney World”) to “last” (as in, “last summer, we went to the beach”).
What do we use to mark that shift? It’s a vague happening at best, or maybe it depends more on weather: you know to use “last” instead of “this” when it’s time to wear a jacket?
Or maybe we can just hang it on the equinox. Maybe we inadvertently do. Maybe today I say, “My son got married this summer,” and tomorrow I’ll say, “We traveled to British Columbia for Will’s wedding last summer.”
I’ll let you know.
Friday, 22 September, 7:39 AM
And now it is autumn, or maybe it will be at 4:02 PM EST when the sun drifts over that celestial equator. Strange to think we can mark time via a movement that isn’t a movement at all (the sun doesn’t move, right?), and that the line in question is invisible, is, in fact, nonexistent.
Far more to the point, in my world, anyway, is what will happen five days from now: Everett’s departure for six months, the travel portion of his gap year between high school and college. This shift will have far greater currency with some of us than the fall decor I may pull out today, or the cheerful autumn wreath on any door, or the earth’s steady revolution around the sun.
(They grow up so fast. Has it come to this already? I am eager and excited and so ready on his behalf, but if anyone had asked, I would have had his childhood last twice as long. Except that would be so selfish.)
And now it is 8:08 AM and time for a fresh cup of coffee and to make Emma’s lunch, to start the laundry I didn’t finish yesterday, to see my neighbor walk her son up the hill to the elementary school.
Today, fall is newborn and Everett and I will check his packing list and go shopping for shoes.
In five days we will take him to the airport, and before we know it (right?) he will come home again, and in no time at all, all of this will be a very long time ago.