The Cold

Autumn is a beautiful season, and might be our last chance to see friends and family for a while. We should cherish it while we can.

The calendar has turned to October. Summer has met its official end. We haven’t stowed our shorts away for good, but the jeans have emerged from their hibernation.. 

Autumn is typically my favorite season. I know a lot of people long for summer warmth, for the beach and bright sun. Fall’s always been more my speed. I like the crispness of the air, the warmth of stew and pie and cider. The colors of the leaves speak to me more than a sticky summer sweat does. I like sweaters and light jackets. I’m a sucker for pumpkins and apples. I love playoff baseball.

This year’s season feels different. There’s still going to be plenty of cinnamon and nutmeg. The air will still have a bit of a bite to it. But autumn now more than ever feels like an indicator of borrowed time. I’ve already written about why the outdoors are even more of a blessing than usual right now. But there’s a time limit on that freedom. 

We still have the chance to congregate together while there’s still a bit of warmth to be had. But at some point it’s simply going to become too cold to comfortably sit down for outdoor dining at a restaurant or to meet up at the park. It’s going to be too cold to get together for drinks at night in someone’s yard. We’ll button up our coats and put on our scarves to try to extend our human connections. 

It will have to stop at some point, or at the very least be reduced to protracted outings that last as long as we can bear to be out in the cold. It will snow. It will get too brisk. I am dreading that day.

I actually got out of the damn house this past weekend. I’ve been mostly cooped up and bogged down with schoolwork, which is part of why I haven’t been able to write for you in the past few weeks. I’ve got one hell of a full plate. It’s taken a toll on me. I see faces on my screen in my Zoom classes, but those faces don’t correspond with actual human connection. 

I needed air. I needed to reduce my stress levels, which were dangerously high. I was feeling run down. Anxiety was doing things to my body. I needed to get the hell out of here before the cold trapped me inside for months. So I went to a farm. 

Photo: Nick Stellini

One of the cool things about living in the Garden State is the farms. My town is a bougie suburban hellscape that would be a great setting for a horror movie, but a short car ride away are any number of farms overflowing with fresh air, greenery, apples, pumpkins, doughnuts, cider and pies. It does a body good. 

This farm was particularly good. Sure, there were apple orchards and a hayride to a field full of pumpkins (not on the vine, weirdly and unfortunately). But there were also local food trucks, and I shit you not a target range for shooting little pumpkins out of big slingshots. I can’t even begin to describe how therapeutic it is to launch pumpkins out of a big slingshot after weeks and weeks of Zoom school. I might have to go back once a week. 

It was so nice to be out and about. It was so nice to breathe the crisp air, to eat sausage and peppers and the crappy shoestring fries that come with that crappy sweet ketchup that combine for such a perfect, soul-cleansing flavor of a carnival. It was so nice to see the greens and oranges and reds of autumn. There is so much beauty in this season, and to be able to enjoy it with my family was a treat. 

I don’t know when I’ll be able to do something like that again.

Those beautiful colors of autumn that I saw at the farm have come to represent the harvest, the approach of spices and crackling fires and flannel. But the turning of the leaves happens because they’re dying. The trees explode with color because of death. The chlorophyll inside them breaks down and the plant sheds the dead extremity. There is beauty in that death, but it’s much harder to find this year as death dominates everything around us.

It is particularly cruel that these last few weeks of togetherness will be occurring right when we as a people typically come together the most. We’re coming up on a string of holidays from Thanksgiving through the New Year that all serve as celebrations of family and love. These special days typically serve as places of safe refuge from whatever outside stressors may be weighing on us. Even Halloween is an exciting day of good-natured spooky fun. But something about going door to door during a pandemic feels deeply wrong. 

Maybe you’ve been seeing your extended family during all of this, perhaps you haven’t. It depends on everyone’s comfort level and how safe everyone’s been. I know that my family hasn’t gotten together nearly as often and when we have it’s almost entirely been outdoors. I don’t know how we’re going to handle the holidays. I can’t say the idea of spending hours and hours together indoors is particularly enticing. The CDC agrees.

Director Robert Redfield specifically brought up the approach of Thanksgiving as a reason to be worried in that story. I envy those in warmer climates who might be able to do Thanksgiving outdoors. That’s usually not an option here in New Jersey. Here, we’ll need to cherish the gentle crispness of autumn before the temperature devolves into raw cold. 

Remember also that there’s expected to be a second surge of infections around Thanksgiving. Just as the pandemic will be gaining strength, we’ll be debating whether or not to see loved ones. We’ll be rousing our heavy coats from their hibernation in our closets. 

Some people like winter more than autumn. That’s understandable. There’s something romantic about snow, about mittens and boots and hot cocoa. It’s never been my thing though. I’ll take the gentle chill of autumn over winter’s freezing winds any day. That holds especially true this year. 

Winter feels like a horrific monster in the distance this year. It’s coming and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. It feels like we’re going to be battening down the hatches and riding out a storm, not for one night but for months. We’re going to emerge at some point, and like the aftermath of a storm we’ll be assessing what survived.

I like autumn. I don’t want it to end. I dread the coming cold.

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