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Viewpoint: Changing perspectives about fall

by Steve Harrison

My grandmother used to talk every year about how much she liked the fall. I never could quite see it. As a teacher for many years, the fall was not my favorite time: flu shots, back-to-school, loss of freedom, the pressure of making new impressions and learning 150+ names, the end of daylight saving time, Santa Ana winds, trees dropping leaves, increased fire danger, and heat waves that make wearing those new school clothes impossible.

Halloween was another reason I disliked fall. Kids high on sugar for a minimum of three days, 13- and 14-year-olds hyped by costumes and parties, the debate over whether celebration of Halloween was satanic, all made October messy. My life as a teacher was uncomfortable enough. Wearing a mask is nothing new for me. As a gay man and teacher, I wore a mask for 33 years. Maybe it is why I dislike Halloween, yet my people have made the camp of Halloween a lifestyle. Most have witnessed the celebration on Santa Monica Blvd. For me, hiding behind a mask either out of necessity or fear or pleasure is not desirable. I felt trapped like Houdini in locks and chains. Masks were not easy to take off, so to don one for fun didn’t compute. Ironically, we now wear them to stay alive.

Perspective is everything. A change in background or experience or age can net a whole new view. The student looking forward to getting back to friendships and the challenges of learning, or the athlete or band members wanting to reunite with their tribe, all see the fall in a whole different way.

It’s true that by fall I’m tired of the heat, and the garden is looking fatigued, if not downright scorched. I’m missing long pants and sweaters. I’m ready to replace salads with pumpkin pie. I want to turn off the air conditioning and sit outside for reasons other than tanning.

With teaching in my past I find myself enjoying the fall a lot more. Even in August, that cool breeze that comes up at dusk, the need to pull up a blanket at night, give us a glimmer of hope that the heat is about to break and that fall is on its way. Even during an autumnal heat wave, days are shortened, so uncomfortable heat must recede with sunset. Trees changing their colors and preseason Christmas decorations hitting the stores bring a certain security: time moves forward, bringing change—some good, some bad—but there is a reassurance that there is hope, that things don’t last forever, that there is something new about to happen. With COVID still here, it’s a relief knowing things don’t last forever. My relatives in Minnesota relish the fall, the last bit of freedom before they enter months of deep freeze. For them, fall is a reminder to appreciate the now; planning for the future means becoming a snowbird or buying a heavy coat.

I’m able to appreciate more of this season with two names, and autumn has its own golden beauty. It brings a relief from the heat and the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving.

 

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