It Smelled Like Fall Today


When I moved to Texas, everyone warned me about the hot summers.  They cautioned me to wear sunscreen; not to exercise outdoors in the afternoons; to plan ahead for the over-air-conditioned buildings.  I thought I was going to die of heat exhaustion and get sun poisoning.

But the truth is that I don’t mind the summers that much.

The season that hurts my heart—if you can call it a legitimate season here in ATX—is the fall.

I grew up with autumns marked by crisp days when I’d wrap myself in sweaters and break out the apple cider.  I’d be sure to bring layers for field hockey practice, and get distracted by the oranges and reds blossoming on the trees around me.  Wood stoves would fire up in houses, filling the air with the crackle and smoke that signaled the start of the new season.

The fall in Austin is nothing more than an extended summer.  Aside from the glamour of football season, there’s little to distinguish it from the stifling-hot summer and the warm-rainy winter. 

But, ah, today…Today I saw my breath billow in the air when I took out my dog in the morning.  Today there was just a hint of that fall-leaf smell, though I knew that it didn’t mean the colors would change.  Today, though I didn’t need a jacket, felt chilly and refreshing.

My somber mood mixed with nostalgia and homesickness.  I ordered a pumpkin spice latte at Starbuck’s, and felt a little bit like a phony.  Because even though it smelled and felt as close to fall as we get in Austin, I knew that it wasn’t here for real. 

I’ll embrace it as much as I can, perhaps even going overboard.  With highs of only 80 during the day and nights as low as 40 degrees, I’ll make hot soup with crusty bread to curl up with on the couch.  I’ll throw an extra blanket on the bed even as I open all of the windows.  I’ll burn candles with scents like “Autumn Leaves” and “Macintosh Apple,” because hell—those smells aren’t around here naturally!  If I had a wood stove, I’d warm it up and sit down with a good book and my dog.  If fall won’t come to me, I’ll just have to fabricate it.


And then there’s the good stuff.  The real stuff.

I made my third annual trip home for the fall this weekend.  The first time, it was for my Boston bachelorette party/bridal shower.  After five years without the fall, I was reminded just how much I missed it.  (Of course, the blue skies, comfortably-cool temperatures, and ridiculously bright foliage didn’t hurt.)  So I decided to go again…and again.

Maybe I’ve been bringing the nice Texas weather with me, because every visit has been gorgeous.  Sunny, bright, cool enough for long sleeves but warm enough to enjoy a walk on the Robert Frost trail, shrouded in fiery leaves.  In some ways, I’m forgetting how rainy (and, at times, miserable) the fall can be in New England.  This time around, I packed my trip full of quintessential fall-in-western-mass activities like cider doughnuts, pumpkin patches, and the Yankee Candle Company.  And, of course, ample time with family.

Something settles in me when I can sense a change of season, like my internal clock is slowing and righting itself.  Like I’ve stepped off the hamster wheel to take stock of the beauty around me.

People tease me when I say that I lose track of the time of year in Texas.  (And I suppose that they’re justified in doing so, considering the fact that I write the date on the chalkboard in my classroom every day and all.)  But I do sincerely miss the marked changes every few months in more variable climates. 

I never thought that I was the kind of author who writes about nature, yet here I am doing just that.  One of my current manuscripts takes place in Massachusetts, and many a reader has told me that I have a well-developed sense of place.  Some have even said that my description of the setting occasionally interrupts the flow of the narrative.  So I suppose that even if nature isn’t my central subject, it is frequently my inspiration.  And there’s no hiding the fact that I dearly miss the kind of nature that I grew up with.

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