Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fall Melancholy

The first time I remember experiencing a certain feeling I've come to associate with autumn, I was in high school, maybe tenth grade.  I was waiting for a ride from a friend, and rather than wait in the house, I decided to wait outside, where I'd be able to see her arrive.  It was early evening, and beginning to get dark, the days getting shorter as we moved further from summer.  I walked outside and balanced on the hood of my parent's station wagon parked at the curb, my knees bent high, feet perched on the bumper, and looked out into the distance, waiting to see the headlights of her mother's car.

As I waited, I became aware of the early darkness, the leaves beginning to fall, and the gathering chill in the air.  I noticed a distinct feeling of ..... melancholy is the best word I can find ..... and the interesting thing about the feeling is that it didn't seem to reside within me, where I might expect to find feelings, but rather in the very air around me.  I wasn't sad, pensive, wistful.  But the season was.  Fall carries those feelings in its cooling air, and the early dark of its evenings.  I could sense them in the breeze around me, and I remember feeling distinctly fortunate, protected by my big, boisterous family gathered in the house, and the imminent arrival of my good friend.

The next time I remember that fall melancholy was my freshman year of college.  I lived in a dormitory overlooking the entrance to the campus library, and while it was busy most of the week, Friday nights looking out that window was like looking out on a ghost town.  I wasn't so lucky to have family or friends around me at that point; I was terribly lonely, and it seemed like those fall feelings were just whipping around in the wind outside my window, waiting to get in and annihilate me.  I would shudder looking out at the empty campus walkway, and hurry to make plans with any group of girls seeking company that I could find in my dorm.  It took a few months before I found my close friends and it was frightening, in the meantime, the way that autumn melancholy threatened to eat me alive every weekend evening between dinner and whatever protection I could seek from the comforting presence of others.

As an adult I've noticed it most years, usually just as a sense of something stirring in the air, something slightly haunted maybe, beneath the surface of our lives, right as we begin to move away from our neighbors and into our houses, the long hibernation of winter lurking ahead around the edges of the imagination.  It's in such contrast to summer, where what you see is what you get.  It's too damn hot to hide anything in the summer, there's no space for secrets in the constant and overbearing light of the sun.  Neighbors and strangers, both friendly and nosy, share the city spaces as we all escape our houses in search of relief from the heat. 

Last night I sat outside after putting the toddler down to bed, and I could feel that fall melancholy, whistling like the breeze through the leaves beginning to turn colors in the trees.  I put my hand on my belly, and felt the kick of my unborn daughter as an omen of protection, and then hurried back into the house to snuggle with my husband as the night got darker and cooler.  We awoke to the aftermath of a rainstorm, opening early morning curtains to wet black pavement and glistening overgrown grass in the yard, under a still-gray sky.  I made pancakes and hot coffee while my husband fried bacon and eggs, and then we sat together at our dining room table by the big windows overlooking the yard, eating and drinking hot while the wind blew cold outside through the waterlogged leaves of trees and bushes just outside our fence.

Every year I say fall is my favorite season, and it's true --there's so much I love about autumn-- but every year at this time I'm grateful that I'm not alone.  Fall is the loneliest season of them all, just on it's own.  It doesn't need me to add to its melancholy, and I don't want to be trapped by its sadness either.  I gather my family around me like a circle closing, like a latch on a gate never used in the winter.  I thank the gods with each leaf that falls, golden or red or browning at the edges, that I have them, that we are together, and safe.  The sky turns a darker gray and I turn the lamplight brighter against the coming of that haunted melancholy that fall carries with it just under the surface, somewhere invisible in the air.


  1. Hi, you don't know me; but I was doing some keyword searching on the internet for "fall and melancholy" and I found myself here; sharing the same feelings and emotions you expressed.

    I'm no english teacher; but I really enjoyed the composition! I haven't had time to go through EVERY single post, but I can imagine they're equally as wistful and "page turning".

    Anyways, keep it going.

  2. I love this. Words for feelings I've been having. Thank you for writing it!