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A slow and quiet blaze of brilliance
You can celebrate Fall on your own terms.
A few weeks ago, my daughter and I borrowed a picture book from the library called In the Middle of Fall. At 40 pages, it’s simple, as picture books tend to be. It’s also surprisingly poignant.
In the Middle of Fall is about the splendors of autumn, with drawings of colorful leaves, a child in a cozy red hoodie, and squirrels gathering nuts for winter. With just a few words, the author, Kevin Henkes, sets the tone of the season. “It takes just one gust of wind, and all at once—everything is yellow and red and orange, all over, all around,” Henkes writes. “Right in the middle of Fall.”
It’s beautiful. Just like the way my toddler looks at the world right now. “Dat leaf falling!” she’ll shout, as we watch another tree lose a bit of its covering. She treats each of those fallen leaves like a treasure—something worth holding onto, examining up close, and carrying for a while.
Eventually, the book takes a turn. Henkes reminds us to remember Fall’s magical moments, “because soon ... the yellow and red and orange will be gone.” By the book’s end, the weather gives way to beautiful blankets of snow.
As my daughter and I reach this part, I can’t help but feel a little sad. Living in the balmy Southeast, I know we’ll be lucky if we see an inch or two of snow all Winter—and certainly not the lovely, powder-covered scene depicted in those pages. Soon, the yellow, red, and orange of today will fade, and instead of ushering in a brilliant white backdrop, our next few months will be filled with gloomy gray.
But dreading the future isn’t the point of In the Middle of Fall. Looking forward to what’s next isn’t the point, either. The book is about celebrating the now. To appreciate the dazzling colors of the season while they last.
Isn’t that always the goal of life? No matter what season we’re in, there’s always something to appreciate.
At the end of August, thanks to one disastrous misstep, my mom broke her heel bone. Recovering from a foot fracture is challenging at any age, but at 67, it’s something that has significantly reduced Mom’s mobility. She’s had to give up her beloved daily walks, and gets around now with the help of a borrowed knee scooter.
A week after her injury, in hopes of lifting her spirits and introducing a new daily practice during this time of healing, I suggested that my mom try meditating each morning. To build in some accountability, I offered to do the same. We’ve been using the Calm app for daily meditations; after each session, you can share a quote from the practice. Mom and I dutifully send those quotes to each other via texts, as if we’re sharing our Wordle results. As of today, we’re on a 44-day streak of 10-minute meditations.
Meditating for several minutes a day has unquestionably helped my mother—it’s given her a bit of peace and perspective during an otherwise frustrating time. She says it’s already become a daily habit, something she plans to keep doing long after she’s back on two feet.
While my mom’s recovery has still been tedious and challenging, I like to think that meditation has made it a little easier. What I didn’t anticipate is how transformative the daily practice would also be for me. I’ve meditated in the past, and each time it’s offered me something different. Right now, it’s helping me to slow down and to let things go.
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I’ve written about the weather a surprising amount this year. Each time, I’ve come to the same conclusion: If we were to really listen to the seasons, our pace of life would be a lot different. To let Mother Nature take the lead, we’d have to be quieter and slower, more perceptive of the changes happening all around us.
Instead, we have countless manufactured markers that rush us from one season to the next—often, long before it’s even begun. This year, Krispy Kreme released its pumpkin spice donut on August 8. At least one momfluencer set out her lavish Fall decorations by July 16. Retail stores began selling Halloween decorations well before Summer ended. Before cooler weather arrives, we’re bombarded with ads for cozy sweaters and stylish boots, social media images of happy families going apple picking and pumpkin farming, seasonal decorations that get a little more elaborate each year, and limited-edition pumpkin-spice everything.
It can easily become overwhelming. Our bodies and minds—and our calendars!—may tell us that it’s too much, too early, but capitalism screams at us that Fall is here, that we need to buy and do all the autumnal things.
I’m as susceptible to the frenzy as anyone else. By the time October rolled around, I began anxiously trying to convince Billy that we needed to drive an hour and a half away to do some apple picking. We’d have to leave early, I said, to beat the crowds, which would mean sacrificing some precious sleep on a Saturday morning. But it’d be worth it, right? Of course, we couldn’t stay for too long. After a couple hours—spent picking the right amount of apples, riding the wagon, buying baked goods, visiting the petting zoo, and documenting it all—we’d have to head back, timing our drive home to coincide with our daughter’s afternoon nap.
It would have been a feat of logistics, crammed into an already busy weekend. But it seemed important! I was feeling the capitalist-driven demand to squeeze every bit of joy out of Fall as I could. Now, reflecting back on the pressure I felt, I’m wondering what it all was for. A photo showing how seasonally appropriate our outings are? A memory that we’d be able to recount later on? Some bit of proof that we’re doing All The Things, like today’s parents are expected to do?
In the end, our trip didn’t happen. Our car needed some minor repairs, and we didn’t feel comfortable taking it on a long drive. The following weekend was already jam-packed, as is this coming one. Arguably, by the time our next free weekend rolls around, it will be too late. It’s a fair conclusion that we missed this year’s apple-picking opportunity.
This is probably a good thing. At this age, my toddler daughter is happier stomping through fallen leaves in our yard than she would be in a crowded apple orchard. I’m happier, too. When I really stop and think about it, the thing that has made this season most memorable is reading In the Middle of Fall—a simple, beautiful, borrowed book—over and over and over again.
At the end of this week, my daughter will turn 2. The week after that, she’ll start daycare. It’s a bittersweet moment, one that I am simultaneously dreading and looking forward to. It will mark the end of one season of our lives and the beginning of another. I’ve been reminding myself that the best way to get through it—to embrace the present—is to breathe.
The key to meditation, at least for a beginner like me, is to focus on your breath. In doing so, you realize that each breath marks a beginning and an end, over and over again. You also remember that breathing comes naturally. You don't need to overthink breathing; it just happens.
At the close of each daily meditation, the teacher, Tamara Levitt, offers a short story or perspective. One day, she described a dehydrated man who came across a river. Desperate for something to drink, he furiously grasped at the water, not catching any of it.
Of course, the best way to capture water using our hands, Levitt reminds us, is with open palms.
There’s nothing wrong about buying pumpkin spice lattes or taking a seasonal trip to a corn maze. If those things are delicious and fun for you, great! But I hope you do them on your own terms, and not because it feels like something you have to do, something you must document and cross off a manufactured to-do list. And, perhaps, consider if there’s a more meaningful way to celebrate the season and connect with nature. As João Víctor Gomes de Oliveira recently told The New York Times, “Rethink your rampant consumption. Rethink this capitalist way of living—relentless development.”
I’ve been reminded lately how much of Fall is all about letting go, and how doing so allows me to approach life differently. It’s about holding onto plans with open palms and trusting that everything will turn out fine, even when some of those plans slip through your fingers. It’s about slowing down, listening to nature, and allowing transformations to happen in their own time.
Fall is about beginnings and endings, in its unique blaze of brilliance, making way for the next season.
p.s. What’s your favorite way to celebrate Fall? I’d love to learn more about your traditions. You can share them in the comments, or reply to this email.