Of Love and Umber: Or, Why I Hate Autumn

I don’t know when I began hating the autumn. Possibly when the cool October air would cut too thinly in my childhood asthmatic lungs during evening soccer practices; possibly when the impossible mix of chilly afternoons and a low, hot sun came with the stress of meeting new classmates and impressing new teachers. My distaste for the season took on new dimensions in adulthood, though, with bitter memories and sometimes-burdensome sadness. It’d become an axiom to me that autumn is terrible; it approaches, and I recoil inwardly and brace myself emotionally until winter, when I can feel dead inside (kidding, mostly).

Yet I reflect today with interest that, point of fact (inasmuch as it’s a fact), all of my most happy memories are of the fall. Some of the greatest love, comfort and acceptance I’ve known have in that season worn flesh in concrete experiences I can still make present and alive in my body through memory. Some of the greatest emotions I ever felt are woven into the bitter approaching chill of those months and the scent of mud and wet leaves. And it is rather the less noble seasons of winter and spring that had brought about the end of such loveliness as the fall had always brought me in its warmness. And this, I think, is the crux of it, as I bring these things into memory that had ended so painfully, eventually, and bask bundled and not comfortably in them, chilled and over-hot. They are felt, no doubt, as beautiful memories but beautiful to the point of wounding.

In August 2010 I’d moved to California. By autumn I’d somewhat settled in to life with the woman I’d loved for five years and who would become my fiancé that winter, in the snow of Yosemite, where I’d propose. Our relationship was troubled, with weak foundations I’d hammered at over time, shy and fumbling—probably codependent, I’ve discovered—but inclined in its way toward making a home with someone, what desires all I did not then realize I had. Elided in those memories are earlier holidays spent with her family, the warmth of their welcome, the presence my place at a family’s table that was like to be my own. And it was all, then, before the thrill of engagement, the resistance of her father, the invisible decay between us, of which now autumn’s scent of cold fronts and new detritus was a clear presentment.

The happiness of those memories of happiness are inseparable from the certainty, now, of its loss, like all autumn colors, which are momentarily glorious and always eternally brown.

The trick, I’m sure, is to find the beauty in the umber, the grace in the wound, and by no means to collapse death into non-death or loss into happiness. It is a whole view. It holds joy and sorrow in either hand, love and leaving, and holds both forward before the body. The traditional Japanese aesthetic wabi-sabi, closest akin to the American ‘rustic,’ finds beauty in decaying things, transience, things on the precipice of death and ugliness, somewhat because the death of a thing evokes its life more than any one moment of its life, is suggestive of the whole hidden beauty that is crowded out by the passing loveliness of its best side under the kindest light of time. In the fading of decay, the truth of enduring beauty is permitted to glow softly. In loss, memory wounds, consoles and promises, perhaps.

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