A good friend once apologized when it rained all weekend at the remote-ish coastal place he had invited us to. We are always floored by the shining extent of water, islands and neighboring fingers of mainland you can see from his impressive bit of Maine. We are also greeted by an army of windblown and spooky, droopy, juniper trees with distinct personalities when we turn into the meandering track of a driveway off a very forgettably named road. It’s not a trip to the beach for us–it’s a trip to the ocean. So, as I explained to our friend, rain and wind are simply a part of the visit. The rainstorm at the coast shut out the world. I welcomed the day and a half away from our harried daily lives, and the “nasty weather” relieved us of too much activity after the considerable drive. Our friend’s ancestral summer place afforded a long and wide view because the lot ran down a grass-covered slope punctuated with many kinds of trees and scrub. There were plenty of things to look at out the glass patio doors. There were assorted living things for the rain and wind to mess with, and when you got tired of comparing one swaying pine tree to a madly scrambled smaller one, you could watch the sheets of rain billowing out on the ocean’s surface, towards the fuzzy green humps of islands.
So all that is an introduction to what those recent brilliantly sunny fall days this very September did to me. They made me crazy. Overloaded with work, I still could not stay inside. I’ve tried working outside in my reckless youth, and that was just a way to lose papers or get them wet. (I have blurred and food-stained thirty year old notes on medieval poetry to prove it.) No, don’t say I was driven out by the weekend’s special coffee, or by the frantically busy and never-ending desk- and classroom work I had been doing already: I just couldn’t stay inside. For several weekday mornings, driving due South to my school, I had noticed squirrels running Left to Right across the two-lane–i.e. from the ocean side to the woods side, and had wondered if they were going home with their edible finds or going abroad (to the other side of the road) to find more. And then last weekend I started noticing dead squirrels everywhere: the imperative to stay alive through the winter by gathering bigger food hoards had caused them to disregard the speeding metal monsters humans use for transportation. That’s also got something to do with how sunshine drove Junior (my strapping young teenager) and me outside last weekend when usually we would have been happy cultivating our bookwormy little habits indoors. Winter’s coming! Winter’s coming! The acorns we are hoarding are intangible ones: first, there’s the acorn of going out in just shirt, pants, and regular shoes, which will be buried deep until May next year; then there’s the brilliant and shiny acorn of not having to yell at anyone to get their warm hat on; there’s another acorn of not having to shovel the drive or scrape the car in order to go into the city. I rashly put off entire segments of my desk-bound work so Junior and I could amble aimlessly around downtown Portland, feast on bits of sheer nonsense, drive a little distance and do the same thing all over again.
When I showed up at work on Monday morning and confessed to a colleague that sunshine had put me behind, she calmly concurred that there was no other sensible way to react to such fine weather, not with winter coming…
It should keep–the 47 or so North American falls that I have experienced, but it doesn’t. My first fall I was in the 4th grade in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and walked gaily home from school through leaves, park ducks and friendly older people who said Hello. Each fall is hair-raisingly thrilling in a way I have to make myself stay quiet about. Compare that to the first day of classes, which I have experienced so many times either as a student or a teacher that (while I do experience a certain tightening of the neck muscles) it doesn’t surprise me any more. Unlike Junior, I have no “first day outfit” picked out long in advance. I just wash and iron a few things so I’m covered in those seven minutes between packing my bag and slurping down the healthful “super egg” Mr. Spousal Unit has invented for me. I have to force myself to remember that some of my students have hardly ever dealt with a building the size of a high school or with footnotes, and are probably very excited about whom they’re going to sit with at lunch.
So tonight, with rain varnishing the few fallen leaves right into the driveway’s surface, I am glad. The thrill of fall can be too much, and the reassuring buffer of rain allows us to get on with things.