The Vocabulary of Autumn

fall roadI stepped outside this morning into a beautiful autumn day. Eastern light filtered through the red, orange and yellow leaves that still clung to trees already partially denuded by windy weather. The air had that crystalline quality that puts everything in sharp focus. The temperature was still warm enough that I could breathe without the moisture of my breath puffing out of my mouth in mini clouds but cold enough that it bit through the layers of shirt and sweater to stroke my skin into goose bumps.

The cold fronts sweeping down from Canada have pushed out the warm, soft, humid summer air and brought in air that smells newly laundered and hung out to dry. Fall weather requires a vocabulary quite different from that used at other times of year. The days are cool or even cold once the sun goes down but they do not have winter’s frigidity. Even with the drop in temperature the sun’s rays still give off a surprising amount of heat.

Yesterday I spoke to my nephew who was experiencing his first New fallen leavesEngland autumn. He grew up in Lahore, Pakistan where in summers it is so hot and dry that your skin feels seared like you are standing in front of the open door of a blast furnace. The only relief comes late in the summer in the form of monsoon rains which cool things off into the high 90’s but leave you suffocating in the humidity. The cool temperatures of their short winter bring morning fog and heavier pollution so that you inhale air that feels fuzzy with particulates. I asked my nephew if the colder temperatures bothered him. He said he was enjoying the weather’s fresh feeling. Even New York City’s air somehow seemed cleaner. I told him that we liked to describe the air of autumn as “crisp.”  The dry, cool air has a quality that brings forth the image of sharp edges and clean lines. There is a sweet tang in the air from the local orchards’ trees hung with apples and the bite of wood smoke blown from house chimneys. 

Autumn is such a short season. Soon we will be looking over a sculptural landscape of bare branches and talking about the quality of snow and lamenting the dark afternoons of winter.  So now is the time to enjoy the remaining cool, crisp days of refreshing autumn weather.

Susan Harrison is an attorney by training, home remodeler by accident, and a writer by choice.

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