Sunday, 22 September 2013

Foggy first day of fall in Falmouth

Although today is officially the first day of fall--or "autumn," as they prefer to say here in the UK--I have felt it coming for a while. We've actually had fairly summery weather the last few weeks, but the changing day length is an unmistakeable sign that we are headed towards the cold, dark portion of the year.

As a result, I've been feeling a bit antsy, like a migratory bird becoming restless in the days before it heads south. I don't feel the urge to go anywhere (though if you told me you wanted to send me to the Maldives for a week, I wouldn't complain). I do, however, feel the same inclinations that I feel every autumn, to do things that haven't been a part of my routine for years. I want to go back-to-school shopping for clothes and office supplies; I want to put on a sweater and go watch a football game under stadium lights; I want to meet up with my cross country team and race on a 5K course that smells like damp earth and fallen leaves. Most especially, I want to eat candy corn.

Those things were a part of my life for so long that it is hard to shake the feeling that I should still be doing them, even after all these years. When I lived in the US, I could see them happening around me, so I could vicariously get my fix of autumn activities. Things are quite different here in the UK, though. Sports are different, weather patterns are different, food is different. For example, in addition to the dearth of candy corn (alas!), there is also no hint of pumpkins or pumpkin-flavored things, which I also associate with fall. People don't decorate with dried corn husks or those cute miniature gourds, and stores don't have displays of homecoming dresses or miniature candies for Halloween.

On any given day, if you asked me to describe myself, "small-town girl," "Midwesterner," and "American" wouldn't be high on my list. In autumn, though, the drifting of my thoughts reminds me that I am most definitely all three of those things, no matter where I go or what I do. The fall-themed movie that plays in my mind contains just about every American cliche you can think of, from pickup trucks driving down windy country roads, to plaid flannel-wearing men going hunting, to V's of Canada geese flying above red, yellow, and orange trees. I can practically smell the smoke from the fires my grandparents light in their wood stove, and almost taste the winesap apples my dad faithfully brings home from the farmer's market throughout the harvest season.

I don't necessarily feel sad about missing out on all these quintessential American activities, but I suppose that I do feel a bit of wistful nostalgia--not so much about the US in general as about my childhood there. The return to school each autumn heralded the chance to make new friends (and, of course, boyfriends), learn new things, be a different person than I had been when school let out at the start of summer. All these possibilities made me think of fall as quite an exciting season, and I still feel the remnants of that excitement even now. Those positive vibes more than made up for the fact that autumn can actually be quite depressing, what with the plants shutting down and the animals departing and going into hibernation.

As far as I can remember, I have only ever been homesick once in my life--an autumn night during my freshman year in college. I had my window cracked open and could smell that sweet, earthy scent of decaying leaves; every now and then, the sound of a goose's honking voice would drift up from the pond behind my dorm room. The poignancy of the moment inspired probably the best poem I have ever written, and I can still picture that scene vividly. I find it interesting that I am still, consistently, contemplative at this time of year.

None of this is to say that Britain doesn't have any charm once September rolls around. In our part of the country, at least, we can look forward to temperatures that are cooler but never very cold; as a result, we often get dramatic fog under conditions that are comfortable enough to allow pleasant walks. This was certainly the case this weekend, which was both the last of summer and the first of fall. Though the town has been swathed in thick mist since early this morning (and soundtracked by the consistent tolling of the foghorn out in the bay), the coastal path was full of people enjoying the dramatic views--or lack thereof. Like me, they were obeying the urge to flock to the shore to see what couldn't be seen.

It all felt very deep and metaphorical, and I could see more than one set of eyes filled with a far-off look. Maybe I'm being melodramatic because of my own contemplative frame of mind, but it seemed that everyone was pausing, thinking, and remembering. I think that's just the nature of the season: The beach trips are behind you and the merriment of Christmas is too far ahead of you to seem concrete, and so you are left in a bit of a hinterland. It's disconcerting, but also fascinating. It reminds me of how it feels to travel to a foreign country: Only when you're unmoored and working without a safety net (excuse the mixed metaphors) do you learn whether or not you can make it on your own. It's a bit risky, a bit scary, but also somewhat thrilling.

I guess that means autumn still offers me a feeling of excitement and opportunity, just like it did when I was young. I won't be running any cross country races or attending any homecoming dances (probably both for the best), but I'm sure there are other adventures waiting. I just need to go see what's on offer. (Too bad it's not candy corn.)