Last Chance

Now that we’ve passed the autumnal equinox, all the signs that summer is over have become more prevalent.  Of course, there are the birds, having shed their breeding colors and stopped their incessant singing.  But, there are many other signs.

For one, the nights are cool and crisp, the air taking on a taste (or is it a touch?) that snaps as I move through it.  And the nights come faster, the sun setting earlier each night, while the mornings drag along, the sun too sleepy to rise.

Leaves have started blowing along the paths in the park, crunching underfoot and crackling against concrete as they dance in the breeze.  The leaves that remain on the trees have shifted from deep green to something a women’s clothing catalog might call chartreuse.

As I walk Tisen longer and longer before dawn, Venus continues to shine brilliantly as if it’s late at night.  Combined with the waxing moon, I find myself confused as to whether I’m getting up or going to bed.  With the morning temperatures calling for a fleece, I’m tempted to go to bed.

 

The pots of summer flowers on neighbors’ balconies have disappeared and been replaced with mums in fall colors.  Some even have pumpkins and halloween decorations displayed.  The stores have already stocked halloween candy (betting on compulsive sugar-eaters like me buying early and eating what they buy and having to replenish before trick or treat).

Yet, there are still persistent remnants of summer.  The Tennessee River remains the temperature of a warm bath (how I know that is a subject for another blog post).  The late afternoon temperatures still reach the mid to high 80’s.  And, on weekends, local families still gather on the sledding hill.

Just over a year ago, I did a post called Southern Sledding.  This was the most fascinating tradition to me.  It struck me as odd that up North, it had never occurred to us to sled on grass.  We waited around for 10 months out of the year day dreaming about when we could go sledding again, hoping against hope that we’d get enough snow over Christmas vacation (which never happened).  And then hoping for enough snow to close the schools so we could go sledding instead of going to school (which rarely happened).  Perhaps we liked the idea of sledding more than the reality of sledding and that’s what kept us from thinking of sledding in warmer weather on the grass?

Whatever the reason, the sledding hill seems to be more crowded now as if everyone who never got around to grass sledding during the summer is trying to get it in before the weather changes.

This is one tradition I have yet to try.  I keep waiting for someone to offer a class on proper technique.  I guess I, too, will have to try to get it in before the rains start.  Perhaps I will take a lesson from one of my subjects and wear a helmet.

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Fall Friends

Tisen and I have been discovering friends new and old on many of our walks of late.  The other day, for example, we crossed the street to enter the park and found Tisen’s girlfriend Twiggy out for a stroll with her mom and dad.

Twiggy wasn’t up for romance, however.  Today, her mind is all about the rampant rodent population living in the tall grasses growing on the hillside.  It’s fall, after all, and the busy critters have been breeding all summer.  Now, the entire population is fattening up for winter.  From Twiggy’s perspective, it probably seems like a buffet.

In spite of Twiggy’s amazing leaps and bounds, she comes up empty mouthed.  Tisen, however, looks at her with adoration like he can’t believe her athletic prowess and is imagining her bringing home venison for dinner.

We say our goodbyes and are soon greeted by deep purple flowers that I’m going to guess are some sort of variety of fall asters, although they look far more cultivated than the wild variety that used to grow in our garden up North.

They bob and curtsy at us as our friends the Goldfinches, who are not looking so gold these days, land and depart on the dried seed pods of nearby plants.  I believe these were once our friends the purple coneflowers that have now shriveled into thin, brown mummies.  The goldfinches continue visiting them and harvesting their seed, storing it as fat for their winter coat.

I am reminded of the lateness of the season by all of this activity.  The days are shorter, the temperatures nearly tolerable, and the birds are far quieter.  I pause for a moment and listen.  A month ago, I would have heard a Titmouse, a Chickadee, a Cardinal, a Wren, a Towhee, a Robin, and an Indigo bunting in this park.  Today, all I hear are the cicadas buzzing away with their strange song.

While Twiggy may be too busy hunting to think about romance, for me, this is always the most romantic time of year.  A sense of nostalgia sets in along with the inevitable awareness of time passing that comes with it.  Another year wrapping up.  Autumn is more poignant than new year’s when it comes to reminding me of my own mortality.  In the fall, everything seems to be moving on in one way or another.  Perhaps as a nomad (at least in my imagination), I long for my own migration.

When Tisen and I encounter our next group of friends, the bees and butterflies, so dense on a brilliant white flower I don’t recognize that they’re sharing blossoms, I remember that this is migration season for the butterflies, too.  While the bees will hole up for the winter, the butterflies will take to the winds and head for warmer climates.  I look at these tiny, delicate insect-birds and wonder how they can possibly migrate a few dozen miles, let alone thousands.  One of life’s many wonders.

Fall Fantasies

It’s Monday morning.  Thursday is Thanksgiving.  Many of my colleagues are taking the entire week off.  I’m saving what’s left of my vacation for the end of the year.  I expect to be able to get caught up at work before the holiday with so many people gone.

The morning starts rather abruptly with a 6:30AM call with a colleague in Great Britain.  It’s the only time one of our volunteer testers for a project I’m involved with is available to talk through what we need him to do.  It’s now 7:30AM and I’m already overwhelmed with how much I need to get done before Thursday.

Not only do we have this testing going on, but four of the other projects I’ve been working on are coming to a head and I’d like to get them all to the next major milestone before taking off for the long weekend.  What I really need is a walk, but it’s not happening today.  Having gotten started working, I’m on a roll and I’m not stopping now.

Now it’s Tuesday morning.  I’m up long before dawn now, the dawn coming so much later these days.  I am working out this morning.  It’s my last training session with Kory and then my package is done.  He’s offering a boot camp class in the mornings starting next week, so I’ll be doing that.  But, this morning, I have my final one-on-one workout.

Once I get out of the gym, I decide I need the walk I skipped yesterday even more today.  Pat is out of bed when I get home, so we get ready to go.  It’s been a week since we last walked by the riverfront.  The trees have dropped many more leaves; the crews are still out there blowing the leaves and hauling them to the compost piles.  It seems endless.  From the look of things, there will still be leaves to remove after Thanksgiving.  There are far more leaves still on the trees than there were in Columbus, but I don’t think fall is much more than a week behind.  I wonder if there will still be any leaves on the trees in the mountains this weekend.

I realize that I am wearing a T-shirt and a light sweater as we walk around the park.  Pat is wearing only a T-shirt.  It seems like a repeat of before we went up to Columbus–it’s in the 60’s and the sun is barely up.  I like this warm weather stuff, I have to admit.  I like changing seasons and cooler weather, too.  But there is a lot to be said for not being cold.

The river looks the same.  The sky is overcast, so there aren’t interesting reflections on the water this morning, but the blue heron like it just the same.  A pair of them flies over the water, rounding a corner and landing too close to the shore for us to see from where we stand.  We walk to an overlook and lean out over the rail, trying to spot them.  But, they have either flown on or parked somewhere hidden behind they honeysuckle taking over the space between the path and the shoreline.

As we look for the heron, a large shadow passes over our heads, catching our attention.  This often happens when a large bird flies between us and the sun when we’re out for walks.  Today, it turns out the sun has briefly appeared from behind a cloud long enough to cast a shadow from a car crossing over the bridge.  This phenomena shocks us every time.  The bridge is far enough away that it seems impossible that a car could cast a shadow over our heads, yet it happens on a regular basis.  There is something wrong about cars casting shadows that can be mistaken for airplanes.

We get to the far end of our walking route and head back towards home.  The leaves are piled in lines down the center of the sidewalks.  The crew is taking a break under the bridge.  We step carefully, trying not to displace any of the leaves waiting to be swept up and hauled away.  I think back to the falls of my childhood.  I have a generalized memory of my whole family being out in the front yard creating massive piles of leaves and taking turns running and jumping in them.  In my mind, that was what every fall was like.  Yet, when I actually remember specific times, I remember thinking piling up the leaves and jumping in them should be a lot of fun, but actually doing it turned out not to be all that exciting.

More clearly, and therefore, probably more recently, I remember raking and raking and being amazed by the amount of raking required to clear the yard of leaves.  I also remember enjoying mowing the last few times in the fall–I felt like I was vacuuming whoever’s lawn I was mowing, sucking up all the leaves and debris into the mower bag and leaving a trim, bright green stripe of lawn in my wake.  The difference between where I had yet to mow and where I had already mowed (mown?) was so striking.  I loved the unambiguousness of my accomplishment.  There are a lot of days I wish I’d stayed in the lawn mowing business.

When my neck aches, my head aches, and I can’t point to a single thing I’ve actually gotten done after a long day sitting at my computer, I start to long for a job that involves physical labor.  Recognizing that this probably sounds better than it would actually feel by the end of a long day of challenging physical work, I sometimes fantasize about being a park ranger.  I realize I don’t actually know what a park ranger does all day, but just the idea of hanging out in a park for a living seems very promising.

When the park ranger fantasy surfaces, this is usually when I decide I should clean off my desk.  That’s about as close to physical labor as my job gets these days.  Is it any wonder that I have to go to the gym when the best I can do for exercise on the job is throwing away scraps of paper and putting my pens back in the pen holder?

Returning from our walk in the park and settling myself at my desk, I realize that even the pens and papers are disappearing from my work life.  Soon, I will have to pop my laptop in and out of its docking station for physical activity on the job.  I promise myself I will stand up and pace while on calls today.  This, of course, doesn’t happen because while I am on calls, I am also doing at least 6 other things that all require sitting at my computer.  I am reminded of an idea I had many years ago for a line of office furniture that requires you to move while you work.  I find myself thinking maybe I should build some prototypes for myself.  If only I knew how to weld.