Autumnal Thoughts, Autumnal Tunes

Planet Earth, which we humans increasingly have been making a mess of since the Industrial Revolution began in the late 1700s, nonetheless has remained reliable in various ways. It keeps on spinning, for one thing, and traveling around the Sun, for another. Good thing that it does, no? If those movements were thrown out of whack, we, along with every entity taking up earthly space, would be goners in a couple of blinks of an eye.

Well, as we know, on the 22nd of September those good ol’ reliable movements brought about the autumnal equinox and the vernal equinox in, respectively, the northern and southern hemispheres. This was due to the Sun being directly above the equator, by the way. For me, a resident of the north, this event officially marked the beginning of my favorite time of year — fall — and prompted me to gather some thoughts about that season. Here they are, along with a few recordings that capture fall’s cozy, mellow essence. Damn straight, I’m in an autumnal mood!

This is the main reason why I like autumn as much as I do: I was born in late October, smack in the heart of fall. And my birthday has been lovingly acknowledged and celebrated, by one combination of people or another, every year of my life. Over time it became only natural for me to associate autumn with my birth anniversary. How could I not, seeing that autumn never fails to whisper frequent reminders in my ear about the approaching big day? And when that day arrives, autumn, behind the scenes, is one of the celebrants. Yeah, autumn loves me, and I therefore love autumn back, you dig?

Hatboro, Pennsylvania

To meld with autumn righteously and timely, on its first day this year I took a long walk through Hatboro, a cute town a few miles from where I live in the Philadelphia suburbs. I headed there with the newly-hatched season fully on my mind. The mid-day temperature was lovely, about 73° F (23° C), the skies were as blue as you could hope for, and a light breeze ruffled the few strands of hair that remain on the crown of my head. In other words, the day was pretty damn well ideal. How sweet it was not to be sweating like a pig, which I had done numerous times during walks in the just-departed summer. Autumn weather suits me just fine.

Produce Junction (Hatboro, Pennsylvania)
Hints of gold in a tree in Hatboro, Pennsylvania

Hatboro was starting to get its autumnal mode in order. For instance, I saw scarecrows on a couple of porches and in a couple of store windows, and I gazed with admiration at the arrays of pumpkins in Produce Junction, a store on Hatboro’s main drag. But there was little evidence of fall in the billions of leaves within Hatboro’s boundaries. Only in a smattering of trees did I notice a changing of the color guard, such as in a tree outside of Produce Junction. Hints of gold decorated that specimen, harbingers of full-blown color transformations yet to come. I’m eagerly awaiting mid-to-late autumn’s golds, russets, burgundies and ambers. That palette grabs me powerfully each year, yet tenderly. Yes, autumn is a period of beauty that goes down as satisfyingly as comfort food.

As I walked through Hatboro, I pulled some autumn tunes out of my memory bank and let passages of them play silently in my head. I’ve always loved Autumn Almanac, by The Kinks, and Van Morrison’s Autumn Song. They provided part of my stroll’s soundtrack. As did Harvest Moon, a Neil Young composition that quite a number of musicians have covered. Young’s version is special. It makes me go limp with wonder, so beautiful do I find it. In Hatboro, those songs, and a few others, kept me company excellently.

Back home later that day I did some research into fall-themed songs, discovering Eva Cassidy’s live rendition of Autumn Leaves (music by Joseph Kosma, English lyrics by Johnny Mercer). With vocals emanating from Cassidy’s most-private chambers, this performance would break the hearts of all but the stoniest. And I reconnected with Autumn Serenade (music by Peter DeRose, lyrics by Sammy Gallop), off the album that the famous saxophonist John Coltrane recorded in 1963 with the not-so-famous vocalist Johnny Hartman. A bit more research would have revealed many others, so deep a hold has autumn maintained on songwriters past and present.

Rather than overload this essay with YouTube presentations, I’ve decided to limit the recordings to three. I think you’ll enjoy the following Young, Cassidy and Coltrane/Hartman works. Be well, boys and girls. And, as I usually mention, please don’t be shy about adding your comments.

Relentlessly, Time Marches On (A Mortality Story)

For nearly all of my adult life, walking around while looking at things has been one of the activities that pleases me the most. I especially like to stretch the ol’ legs in cities, where there is no end of interesting sights, and in unspoiled natural areas, where the wonders of organic and inorganic matter never fail to amaze. And I’m also an explorer of towns that look like towns. Their old-timey ambience gets to me every time. This year I went for a healthy number of walks in all of these environments, both in the USA and in Europe, and consider myself fortunate to have done so.

My neighborhood (November 7, 2019)

However, one place where I don’t go out for walks too often is my own neighborhood, which occupies a fair amount of space in the suburbs of Philadelphia, USA. Basically that’s because my neighborhood is bland, man, bland, as is much of suburbia. Early this month, though, the urge hit me to hit my house’s surrounding blocks. Why? I wanted to check out how much of autumn’s colors were still in evidence. So, off I went in mid-afternoon. I strode along many streets, my eyes primarily focusing on tree foliage, or what was left of it. One hour later I returned to my home, having been wowed not all too much. That’s because, in my little corner of the world, yellows and ambers and russets and burgundies were close to being placed on life support. The autumnal party was just about over.

My neighborhood (November 7, 2019)

Yet, the walk had its good points. The temperature was pleasant and the air was still. Few cars made their way along the roads, and I crossed paths with only a couple of fellow humans. My mind and emotions, as a result of all of this, were in a state of relative calm. I was getting my Zen on. And I kind of liked that. You know, maybe I should enroll in a Zen monastery. I hear that they give heavily discounted rates to old f*ckers like me. Plus, I’d look great in a real long robe.

Calm as my mind was during the expedition, however, the obvious failed to impress itself upon me. Two days later it did. What I realized is that not only is fall waning in my section of the globe, but winter is drawing near. Not exactly an earthshattering observation, of course, but a useful one. Note to myself: Get ready to start freezing your ass off!

And one day after that I became somewhat melancholy as my thoughts expanded beyond winter’s approach. What struck me is that last winter seemed to be not all that long ago. For instance, I can recall in detail the events of last December’s New Year’s Eve, when my wife and I went with friends to dinner and to see John Oliver perform stand-up comedy at a Philadelphia theater. Was that really eleven months in the past? It feels like five months max.

Which at long last brings me to the main theme of this opus. Namely, our lives are flying by right before our very eyes. This would be okay if we went on and on and on. Time, then, would be irrelevant. I’ve reached the age, though, where time’s rapid pace mildly depresses me. I think semi-regularly about how much time I have left. My end might be imminent, after all. Shit. Double shit. Then again, I might hang around for another 30 years, which would bring me into my early 100s. Who knows? Whatever, if it were up to me, I’d go on forever. As in forever. I know that some or maybe most people wouldn’t choose the same. But even though the state of affairs on Planet Earth is incredibly far from perfect, overall I like being here.

“Huh? Who would want to live forever, considering that wars, floods, droughts, health epidemics and untold other calamities never go away?” I hear someone ask.

“Well, to my way of thinking, these things shouldn’t exist,” I reply. “For that matter, the whole setup on our planet would be different if I were in charge. I mean, what’s the deal with animal species — and that obviously includes humans — feeding upon other animal species? Where’s the value of life in that? And let’s not get started about other orbs in the cosmos. I shudder to think what varieties of mayhem are taking place among life forms out there.” Sigh. “It’s a pity that I wasn’t around for consultation when the universe began spinning itself into shape.”

Yeah, yeah, I sidestepped the question big time. Sue me.

And so we move along through life, hopefully trying our best to do our best. What matters in life? We all know the answers: Showing others that you care, and attending to them when your help is needed; providing properly for those that depend on us, and for ourselves; respecting the planet on which we pass our days; pursuing that which rocks our boats, as long as our passions don’t cause harm.

The list, without question, could hold many more entries. But I think I got most of the basics right. Seeing that our time on Planet Earth is limited, we might as well spend it wisely and meaningfully. And, speaking of time, it’s a late morning as I type this essay’s final words. Shortly I’ll be out the door, meeting the world and trying to keep in mind the unsolicited advice I offered in the above paragraph. Onward and upward!

(As I almost always mention, please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this piece. I thank you.)

My Favorite Season Is Nigh: An Autumnal Story

I don’t know about you, but shvitzing like a pig isn’t high on my list of things I get a kick out of doing. But shvitz like a pig I did on more than one occasion during the annoyingly hot and humid summer of 2018 that sneered at my section of the northern hemisphere. That’s because the grass on my lawn didn’t stop growing these past few months, nor did the bushes that border the lawn, nor did the God-knows-what-kinds-of-plants they were that sprouted up riotously wherever they could gain a foothold.

Somebody had to attend to all that vegetation, which meant that shitloads of mowing, pruning and weeding were in order. And that somebody was me. But, what with the steamy heat, I wasn’t eager to take on those tasks. Thus I let things slide as much as I could. Several times I had no choice though, as my neighbors were threatening to report me to my township’s Messy Motherf*ckers Aren’t Welcome Here department. And so, outside I would head to do the yard work thing.

Bottom line: Within 15 minutes each time, sweat was pouring off me in buckets, and my pale, white-boy face was pale no more. Into the house I’d have to repair to cool down. And then back outside to induce another round of sweating and reddening. Then back inside after 15 minutes, etc., etc.

Eventually the job would be completed.

Well, that’s a fairly long introduction, one that has only a tenuous connection to what I intended to write about when I sat down at my writing station. I need to get on track, as this essay is to be about the time of year that I like the best. Which is autumn. Of the four distinct seasons that my region (northeast USA) experiences, why autumn?  Well, summer, as is obvious from the complaints above, ain’t my fave. And winter is too damn cold. But what about spring? Everybody loves spring. It is, of course, terrific, a time of new birth and all that. But I pick autumn over spring, new birth notwithstanding.

Autumn will officially begin the day after I hit the Publish button for this story. Yet I hadn’t given autumn, fall if you will, much thought until recent days, days in which I downed two bottles of beer that set visions of my favorite season dancing in my head. The first to warm my innards was Smuttynose brewery’s Pumpkin Ale. Man, it was so rich and malty, and kissed with goodness by the pumpkin puree, cinnamon and other Thanksgiving-y spices that were tossed into the brewing vats.

Two nights later I finished off a bottle of Festbier, which came all the way from Germany’s Weihenstephaner brewery. Festbier goes hand in hand with Oktoberfest, a time for fun and getting soused that began in Germany in the early 1800s and has since spread to other parts of the globe. Festbier is one of many strong, tasty lagers that reach some of the world’s marketplaces a bit before the Oktoberfest season begins.

Those beers reminded me that the time of turning leaves and Thanksgiving dinners is approaching. And I felt mighty good about that. Not only do I love the colors of turning leaves, I love the whole idea that oceans of green morph into something very different, something very spectacular. What a show! It’s astonishing to me that the extravaganza takes place at all, and it undeniably is something to look forward to again, once it’s over.

And I’ve always been into Thanksgiving, a holiday of simplicity and, for those of us who are fortunate, one of being with people you want to be with. Not to mention Thanksgiving dinner’s crown jewel, pumpkin pie, which, when prepared correctly, is even better than pumpkin ale.

But that’s only part of the picture for me. I’m also drawn to fall because my birthday is in late October, the heart of the season. And though I no longer get thrilled when my birthday comes around, I don’t get depressed either, despite my hourglass becoming awfully damn low in the grains of sand department. That’s because I’ve built a psychic connection to my youth, when October was the greatest month of all. That link softens the blows of frigging Father Time.

More than anything though, I think my attraction to autumn is a reflection of my emotional structure. There’s something wistful about autumn in the falling leaves that follow the color explosions. And the sense of slowing down that comes with the season, as the amounts of daylight noticeably shorten, is comforting. As are the cooler temperatures that pretty well guarantee that shvitzing like a pig won’t be happening again anytime soon, unless I move to Florida in a couple of months.

Wistful . . . that’s a side of me that’s always been there, one I’m very much at ease with. And taking things somewhat slow . . . rarely a bad idea. Yes, fall is an extended occasion in which to flow soothingly, to get my oh-wow groove on, to smile internally.

Next month my wife Sandy and I will spend some days on Cape Cod. Going there in autumn has become a ritual for us. The Cape’s summer crowds will be long gone. The incredible Atlantic Ocean coastline will be ours to hike with relatively few members of our species around to break the spell of water, sand and sky. As always, I’ll feel happy, decently centered, wistful and relaxed all at the same time while on the Cape. The sunsets will be lovely and the nighttime air will be crisp. And, oh yeah, the lobster rolls will taste great. I can’t wait.

(Don’t be shy about adding your comments. Mucho gracias.)