August begins and with it I get a sense that autumn is near. Stephen King once suggested that some time after the mid-point of September, fall arrives. Geography notwithstanding, this is more or less true. However, I will suggest that there is also – not so much a mid-point but – a high point of summer; a seamless, virtually unnoticed moment when summer begins its downhill journey and the preliminary to autumn is upon us. And so begins, for me at least, the best time of the year. From this high point of summer, to autumn’s close on Thanksgiving Day.
Oh, I know, some argue that spring is the best time, and it is hard to disagree. There are warmer days at last, newly green lawns, and a fringe of green on the bushes, soon to be followed by the trees as well, as winter is finally over.
The springtime changes weekly. At first, a few brave flowers – crocuses and the like – poke their heads up, sometimes through a late-season snow. Then a few daffodils, and then suddenly many, many daffodils, and glorious spring is upon us. Then, just as they begin to fade, the daffodils are joined by tulips. And as many daffodils as there are, they are vastly outnumbered by tulips of every imaginable color. And in a week or two the landscape changes again as suddenly, fragrant lilacs and other flowering bushes and trees burst forth.
The days continue to get warmer as now irises dominate the gardens and lawns as summer has arrived. But with it, a same-ness sets in. The summer weeks (here in Milwaukee) are no longer measured by seasonal progression, but are now counted off by the festivals; Summerfest and Bastille Days and Festa Italiana and Germanfest, and so on through the summer.
But in time, August takes hold. And while the same-ness remains, there is now – every once in a while – a hint that transition is again in the air. Pellucid blue skies are sometimes dotted with benign white puffy clouds, occasionally driven by a cool northeast wind. One senses that the flowers are no longer bursting forth, but instead holding on as nature seems to hold her breath awaiting the change. Autumn is near and there is a feeling that an old friend is on the way. Those of us of a certain age have learned not to “wish away” the weeks, or days, or even the hours, but still, anticipation is strong.
In good years, the warm weather lasts well into the fall season, But in the best of years Jack Frost makes an overnight appearance with his brushes early in October to paint the leaves. The few prematurely turned trees of September give way to the burn and blaze of Indian Summer, which will hopefully last well into the next month – coloring the world in shades ranging from mild-mannered browns and tans, to yellows and burning oranges, to brilliant scarlet.
The sun remains warm but the air, particularly at night, is cool and hazy, and maybe even a bit damp. Perfect weather, I’ve always thought, for a Friday night football game. No setting sun in the west to obscure the sophomore contest, watched with one eye as you greet both stadium friends and real friends, arriving to take their seats. And you sit, bundled against the chill, the watery concession stand hot chocolate tasting wonderful as the varsity Tomcats take the field to do battle with whatever conference or non-conference lamb is being offered up this week (It’s the good seasons that remain in memory, and that are easily recalled).
But fall is a season of transition. The local football season and beautiful October conclude, more or less simultaneously, and now the autumn is drawing down. The mild-mannered, patient, tans and browns now hold dominance over the landscape, but are still are beautiful in their way as the season marches finally to its conclusion, which is celebrated by, what else, a feast of Thanksgiving.