Fall is the north’s apple-cinnamon reward — that southerners secretly envy
We don’t need to fake the perfection of our instagram photos of colored leaves, scarecrows and gourds.
By Meagan Francis
It takes guts to live in a place with the Midwest’s unpredictable seasons. Summer is nice for a while, but sweat-inducing summer temps can hang on well into September, and once we’ve cleared that unpleasantness, we live under the constant specter of what we know is coming in November — gray, gloom and a lot of cold rain — all before the onslaught of ice, snow and below-freezing temperatures that often last well into April.
But for at least one glorious month, autumn is our reward for having the internal fortitude and external vigor needed to make it through the rest of the year up north: a reprieve from heat, a breather before the snow starts flying and a chance to wear our favorite cute boots, sweaters and beanies without having to layer them under a parka and two pairs of gloves.
Sure, some might say we all just pretend to love the fall because it gives us an excuse to post pictures of ourselves on social media sipping pumpkin-spice lattes in fingerless gloves while sitting on an overturned milk crate surrounded by piles of gourds. And it’s true that I, for one, can’t stand the pumpkin spice infestation.
But that doesn’t mean all selfies are lies, or that the limitless pictorial possibilities merely amount to an Instagram filter that makes reality look better than it is. No, from parks and preserves emblazoned with red, yellow and orange leaves, to surreally spotted gourds and vine-laced pumpkin patches, to the most golden of golden hours, the photo ops abound because of the actual splendor that surrounds us. Slow your finger-pointing, fall-haters: Up here, we’ve loved the autumn since long before the invention of the front-facing camera.
And why wouldn’t we? Where I live, in southwest Michigan, this time of year is nothing short of magical. Those leaves I mentioned metamorphosize before our very eyes, meaning the tree-lined street you drive down on a Monday may look very different when you drive down it again Wednesday. They then drop in a colorful rain and make crunchy piles that, along with the ripened Concord grapes filling vineyards, give the air its distinctive crisp scent. The temperatures are darn near perfect: often sunny and warm enough to go sleeveless in the mid-afternoon, but chilly enough at night to justify cuddling in front of a fire.
Indoors we’re lighting up all the vanilla- and cinnamon-scented candles that have lain dormant since spring. People who like sports have plenty of options, even during Covid-19 times; the rest of us can indulge in baking pumpkin bread and snuggling under a fuzzy blanket to watch a movie.
While the coronavirus has cramped our cider-fueled frenzy somewhat this year — is trick-or-treating even happening? — we’re cramming as much responsible socially distant fall-related activity as we can into this short season. We’re picking apples and partaking in hot cider (often spiked). We’re visiting pumpkin patches, going on hay rides and pretending to enjoy corn mazes even though we know it’s really just a way to make our kids run off the sugar from the cider they just inhaled.
And fall features one of the best holidays of the entire annual cycle: Halloween! What other holiday offers the chance to imbibe chocolate by the pound with no social obligation besides putting a costume on your kids and sending them out into the world to collect it for you? And you can also release your own inner child, friends: Here’s your chance to play out whatever your oddball fantasy may be, whether it’s wearing that outrageous taffeta-and-sequined gown you inherited from your grandmother and totally love but could otherwise never wear in polite company, or dressing up as an inexplicably sexy version of some tradesperson — say, a sexy lumberjack (hint, hint).
So here we are, fall-lovers: carving pumpkins, arranging gourds into artistic centerpieces, putting enormous mums in pots on our front stoops and madly crunching leaves under our boots-and-wool-socks-shod feet every chance we get … all while covered in chocolate, candle wax and doughnut crumbs.
In short, we’re losing our damn minds, and loving every nut-covered-caramel-apple-eating minute of it.
I’ve been told that, while there are always exceptions, our neighbors to the south generally do not share the affinity for autumn that those of us colder-weather dwellers hold. Look, I get it. In some areas of the country, fall may actually be hotter than the summer, or at the very least isn’t enough of a relief to inspire apple-cinnamon-fueled extravaganzas of enthusiasm. In many parts of the United States, leaves never change color and boots and sweaters rarely leave the closet.
Residents of these southerly climates may feel a bit smug about the fact that their temps seldom dip below our version of a warm summer day, but let me assure you, we four-seasoners know what we’re doing. We may complain a bit in December when our car doors freeze shut or we’re compelled to clear snow from the porch stairs twice a day, but secretly, we’re just as smug that we have the inner strength to withstand harsh temperatures. Besides, none of us have the attention spans for the same weather month in, month out. Year-round summer? Boring.
It’s like my mom always told me when I was a kid: “When a person tries to knock you down because you’re excited about something, it’s probably because they’re jealous.” So next time I’m sipping a hot rum-spiked cider while taking a selfie with a scarecrow wearing a beanie in a field blanketed with the dappled gold of a gently setting autumn sun, I’ll think about what they’re missing and my heart will be touched by a pang of sympathy.
And, when I’m convulsing with shivers, trying to start my car without my hands freezing to the wheel in mid-January — I hope they’ll do the same for me.