Oct 16., 2016 / Fall
The Best Three Months Of The Year
When October came in it kicked into gear my favorite period of time on the calendar…Fall…Autumn…both names are appropriate and nice. Yes, I know that it actually begins in September with the autumnal equinox but usually its October in most places before it really begins to feel like it has arrived. In some places, the transition from summer is pretty quick and brings decided changes. In other places, like where I am in Florida at the moment, it is a slow, gradual thing with minor changes. Compared to other locations around these United States, the transition is hardly noticeable, but there are a few “behind the scenes” changes. Though Fall is first and Winter a close second in my book of seasonal preferences, I do appreciate aspects of the other seasons as well.
Yes, the spring of the year is always lovely, especially if you live in a place where the winter has been hard. Cabin fever can set in and wear you down! I lived in Denver a few winters while traveling as a musician and it was as if spring would never come. We’d get teased in April with a few warm days and then it would snow again. Finally, in late May it seemed it had arrived. Of course, there was one year when I was going through the Eisenhower Tunnel thirty miles west of Denver on my birthday, May 22nd, and it was snowing like crazy.
In the South where I was raised. when spring really shows up, it blossoms…dogwood trees and azaleas burst into bloom. Generally, they bloom about the same time and really are quite beautiful together. Most of the dogwoods are white with cross shaped blossoms that often coincide with the celebration of the resurrection of Christ in the Christian faith. There is a legend that the cross of Jesus Christ was made from a dogwood tree and since that time it has been cursed in both size and shape so it can never be used for that torturous purpose again. Dogwoods do come in other colors in addition to white. Red, a very pale yellow, and pink are the ones I have seen.
When planted, azaleas become bushes that have to be trimmed from time to time with some varieties getting quite large. They, too, are available in different colors. White, red, pink, and purple are the hues I’ve most often seen. White dogwoods and pink azaleas grace many a southern yard in the spring. While watching the The Masters golf tournament on television you always see the dogwoods and azaleas in bloom along the edges of the fairway. If southern charm had publicity campaign, dogwoods and azaleas would have to be in the picture.
Summer, especially early summer, is a time that people love. The garden has been planted, the fish are biting, the beach water temperature is right for swimming, tennis courts are busy, and baseball abounds. Late in the afternoon, the smell of charcoal grills fills the air and friends gather in backyards and under carports. It’s a nice time…and then July 4 shows up on the calendar. It seems the thermostat always get turned up that week and it gets really hot and stays that way. August hits, and especially the dreaded “dog days” late in the month, and people began talking about their hopes for an early Fall. The fish have ceased biting except in the early morning and late afternoon. Most of the garden has been harvested and what was a beautiful site a month ago is now turning brown. People still cook on the grill but it’s too hot to hang around outside while it’s happening. We’d rather watch golf and tennis on television than get out and play it. Air conditioning is the best friend that most people have. Sure, some of the “I love hot weather” people might not admit it but by and large, there is a longing for a seasonal change.
September is a month of transition but not always consistent. I remember when I was in high school it seemed that many of the hottest days of the year happened in September. I’d wear one of my new “back to school” long sleeved shirts and be roasting by the time school was dismissed. However, the sun does drop a little sooner each day and the number of daylight hours decline. The evening temperatures bring the first hint of autumn as they begin a slow decrease, even when the days are still very warm. We head downhill in temperature but it is a slow process. The harvest moon shows up and just the mention of that causes us to think that maybe we are finally on the brink of fall. We look forward to hearing when that first legitimate cold front will show up.
October seems to solidify the season with various festivals…pumpkin festivals, harvest festivals, corn mazes, hayrides, and decorations to match. But the thing that seems to really say that autumn is really here is one of my favorite occurrences…frost…and I’m talking about what we call a “killin’ frost.” Sure, we may get some light, patchy frosts first that bring a thin coating to the car tops and a little on the grass that is shaded. The frost I am talking about coats everything and literally kills off some of those pesky weeds that are connected to allergies. Of course, most of the remnants of our gardens sink beneath the icy white coating as well except the hardiest plants of all…collard greens.
Perhaps there is no greater representative of the southern garden than collard greens. And those of us who love them are especially pleased when they are hit by a heavy frost. Why? Because the flavor sweetens and collards at their best. They are so resilient to cold weather, lasting through freezing weather for an extended period of time. Only when they are heavily ice coated for a long while do they succumb. You can grow collards all year round but when the frosts of the Fall meet those beautiful green leaves, they flourish. (Do you like collards? If so you need to read my post devoted to the them on the Recipes and Food page.) Of course, a likely accompaniment to collards on many a southern table is sweet potatoes, a fabulous root vegetable. They can be prepared in some fancy ways but my preference has always been to simply bake them in the oven, spit them open, and lay in the butter along with a little salt and pepper. When a southerner’s plate contained collards and sweet potatoes, we need little else. Of course, a high percentage of Thanksgiving feasts will include these two vegetables.
When November comes in generally cold weather is in place to stay. Many a leaf will be raked along with falling pine straw. It’s time for bonfires, wiener roasts, and outdoor gatherings that now include jackets. Clear nights bring rapidly falling temperatures and the cool days are perfect for walks in the woods. The smell of colorful, damp leaves on the forest floor are the perfume of autumn. Frosts are now consistent and walking outside in the morning with a hot mug of coffee in hand and breathing in the cold air is exhilarating. Thanksgiving Day is on the horizon and with it a focus on family, friends, faith, and food. It is a great holiday for expressing appreciation on many levels.
Of course, even before Thanksgiving Day happens, preparations for Christmas begins and immediately after Thanksgiving it is full bore. I passed a spot near us yesterday and thought about the fact that in just about a month there will be a Christmas tree lot in place. Personally, I love Christmas and make no apologies for that. I’ve always loved it and my reasons for it are the result of a lot of decades of life and experience. There’s a great deal behind my love for the season which is detailed in my book A Nostalgic Christmas Sampler: Christmas In North Carolina During the 1950’s available at this link on Amazon.
I love the miracle that Christmas is based on, the music and stories that commemorate it, and the Person who is the real focus for celebration. There are a couple of thoughts that stand out that I will finish up with here.
- The focus on family and friends – There’s probably not another time of the year when more of us are thrust together for gatherings. The older I get (I’m 68 now and thankful for every day), the more I value my friends and my family. Spending time with one another, rekindling memories and stories, and expressing our love is incredibly valuable and fulfilling. I’ve always marveled that God in his wisdom created the institution of the family even before the Church. Cohesive family units are of such value so reiterating that, even if it’s only once a year, is a valuable action.
- It’s a time of year when people seem to try harder to be kind to one another – I enjoy seeing and experiencing kindness. Granted, we should be kind all year long, not just at Christmas. However, I am glad that there is a season where it is brought to the forefront in many ways…the inspirational narrative of a child born in Bethlehem to save mankind from sin, the fictional story of a man in London awakened from his greed to discover life, love, and generosity, and the ongoing accounts of people who take themselves out of the spotlight and make decisions to feed the poor, provide for children, and offer comfort to the lonely.
So here we are in my favorite three months of the year. During this period of time, I am always reflective, pensive, and more creative. I think a big part of it is due to a library of memories I’ve collected in my life and travels that spur me on in thought…though perhaps I should not say they send me forward as much as putting me in reverse, recollecting the past, it is a past I dearly love and for which I am very thankful.