Armchair Peregrinations

October 19, 1998

Autumn is advancing here in the South Carolina lowcountry, but very slowly this year, taking its time. The mornings are pleasantly cool, but the days warm us considerably. Got in the car yesterday, and it was HOT. Like summer again, I thought, with much chagrin. I remember reading the other day how this past September was the hottest one on record. I believe it. Can't help but think the greenhouse theory of the earth's warming is correct.

It's mid October, but I can still hear the crickets at night, the 4 o'clocks still bloom all day and close up at night, daylillies haven't surrendered yet to the season in my mother's garden, fragrant ginger lilly is blooming as fiercely as ever, and the grass is still green. But to me the surest sign that fall is here in Charleston is when I can smell Sweet Olive in the air for the first time. Each spring and fall its wonderful scent sends a powerful shock of recognition through me. I associate this smell with the season in almost every place I've lived in the South, but particularly New Orleans and Charleston. I smell the Sweet Olive, I see and rustle leaves on the sidewalk, I notice the dry air, and get a bit nostalgic as I always do this time of year.

Farther north, our friends notice the signs of seasonal change sooner. Annette writes lovely words in an online journal from her farm in Michigan, as this portion of a recent entry attests: The last day of September and a lovely one it is. The mists have been coming and going through the hayfields. The trees are playing hide and seek with the sun. One moment a tree is obscured by white gauze, the next it is standing clear and gleaming in the sunlight. I would never get anything done if it looked like this all day, but the morning sun burns off the fog quickly, then I can go on to more mundane activitites.

Iris Krasnow wrote a nice piece in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago entitled "The Soul of Summer." It was her paeon to the passing of that season when she feels most alive and prepares for the coming fall. At one point she writes, As autumn's lush prism becomes a stark and brittle landscape, we start dealing with our lives rather than celebrate being alive. The speed with which the seasons shift comes as a cruel shock. Summer, she says, is when I live hardest and feel youngest.

I really like those words because they capture a lot about how I feel about summer. Summer, in a different way than spring, is the season of youth, at least youthful memories are so strong during these months when I'm at the beach or on vacation. So many memories are of more carefree times when I was out of school and free to just do what I wanted, more or less. In Charleston, as I mentioned, the seasonal shift is not so apparent although we do have four distinct seasons. The State Fair has been in full swing in Columbia and all the vegetation is beginning to head into its russet-colored stage before the leaves fall and the grass turns brown. We'll be in this stage well into November and may not have any really cold weather until some time in December. Autumn is perhaps the grandest time to be out and about here. The air is invigorating. There's energy aplenty to go around.

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