“Let this be a warning,
said the magpie to the morning,
don’t let this fading summer pass you by.”
Summer is leaving a sticky sheen as it tries to hold on, cotton candy colors and high grass smooshed into the mud around the lakes. They smell sweet with rotted wood, weeds, and whatever else I’m too squeamish to think about clogging their once-clear water. It’s time to relinquish, summer. Summer doesn’t want to, but it’s only ever had a tenuous grasp on its own immortality. So, I walk the heat-heavy lake paths with light feet, knowing that it should all be over soon.
“Trick of the light, turn of the tide”
Winter is for staying home, summer is for playing; spring is for simply breathing promising air, and autumn is for coming together. We gather around tables, around fires, in backyards, in droves hauling the farmers’ market harvest. My walk is brisker, my lungs feel revived. I want to surround myself with everyone I love or kind of like or didn’t really like at first but just might if there’s enough rum-soaked hot cider in my belly. From my desire to gather close and from my feelings of cradling abundance, my compassion blooms riotously.
“The same things look different, it’s the end of the summer,
the end of the summer, when you move to another place”
Every year, I feel restless in September. I sense the season’s change and I sense another closing of another year. I fight the urge to just pack it all up and go, with no plan or expectation, to a warmer place where I can over-winter with grace. I relish the idea of leaving obligations, of finding new ones and new things and new people who also have restless roots. I wonder how many more years I will be in this place. I wonder if I’ve even grown at all in the past year, and what it would take to help me feel as if I’d accomplished the living of a full life.
“When the swallows fell from the eaves,
and the gulls from the spires,
the starlings, in millions,
would feed on the ground where they lie.”
MY compassion has turned to grief. There was a moment where they both played for my attention, and now only my grief is left.
It got cold suddenly, and I was unprepared. I stood outside, shivering, I hadn’t dressed well, my head was aching in protest and the insipid winter drip started sneakily at the tip of my nose. My breath felt like steam. My fingertips like they were separate from my warm core. I worried about the birds. I went home alone and tried to cry, but couldn’t. I wanted someone with me, but the work to get them there seemed disproportionate to how much I wanted it. I thought about souls, and if we are slowly distancing ourselves from them. I wondered if the twilight of the soul seems imminent not just to me this time of year, and the connection between the living and the dead so intimate. My grief held and comforted me. Did I really need anyone else?
“But I miss you, most of all,
when autumn leaves start to fall.”
The thing I remember the most about autumn in Granada is chestnuts. Growing up, my only familiarity with them was that they were always roasting over that open fire in the Christmas song with the jackfrost and the tiny tots with glowing eyes. Chestnuts seemed like a weird mystical fairy fruit that no one actually ever ate. I had never smelled chestnuts before, and have never smelled them since, but I’m sure if I ever do, in an evocative instant I will be right back there with the pigeons wheeling around my head, the throngs of people in a hurry to get somewhere to not be in a hurry, and the burnt-sugar roasted-meat smell of chestnuts. Much softer than a peanut or almond, not much crunch between the teeth, they were often too hot to eat but I ate them anyway and burned the roof of my mouth. One day, I bought Laura, a girl who volunteered in one of my classes, a little bag as she walked me to the bus stop in the smoky November air. I had a wistful little crush on her. She, having grown up in Spain, but also being by nature incredibly gracious, was not as impressed by the chestnut gift as I had hoped.
I’ll be perfectly honest here, I’m not sure if I liked the chestnuts that much, or just the idea of the chestnuts. The smoke filling the air, the crackle, the warm paper parcel clutched in my hand, the promise of going “home” and resting my feet on the warm brasero all through dinner. That’s what autumn was for me in Granada, with its mountains and palm trees and the medieval Alhambra watching over its modern city. Autumn is everywhere, no matter where.
Song Lyrics Bibliography
“”Magpie to the Morning” Neko Case
“The End of the Summer” Dar Williams
“Autumn Leaves” Eva Cassidy (and many, many others, but hers is my favorite)