Love and Hate

I know that it's considered beautiful. I've even considered it beautiful myself sometimes. I know that it brings in millions of leaf-peeping dollars to New England. I know for sure that it's better than the winter shortly to follow it (too cold) and the summer it's replacing (too hot). And, yet, I don't like fall.

It's cheap-looking. Those gaudy colors — as if the trees had come into a small inheritance and gone crazy in the jewelry department of Service Merchandise: Give me a cubic zirconium toe ring and ruby tennis bracelet and some yellow diamond earrings. There's nothing tasteful about a maple in October.

Fall can tart itself up with baubles and rouge and perfume itself with overripe crab apples and bee-nibbled pears, but it doesn't fool me. The whole world is dying and nothing can cover up the rot. There's a dank, moldy underwhiff to the breeze off the river. I'm Persephone and I'm going down and I hate it.

Partly, too, it's the association with school. Summer meant no shoes, no schedule. Aimless, I bobbed in the inflatable backyard pool when I was little, in the vast chill Atlantic as I got older. All those teenage romances pursued on my three-speed through humid Cambridge evenings still haunt me 30 years on. Give me a hot half-moon rising out of a polluted orange sunset at the end of July and I can taste 14 again. The yearning! To know, to be, to kiss, to Get out of the House.

And then September slams down the ax on summer's drowsy neck. Every year condemned to death. No reprieves. And every kid sent back to the prison of school where I was bored and fidgety and would not or could not learn anything.

Partly, of course, it's a perverse desire to disagree. Oh, the beauties of New England autumn, blah, blah, blah. Well, I'm not going along with that, anymore than I go along with Virginia Woolf is the greatest writer of the 20th century, or Let's all go the gym and become fit and fabulous. No, thanks.

But what is it, really?

I think it's that I can't bear the painstaking demonstrations of Time: the disintegrating, the falling off and down, the crumpling, the desiccation of what was juicy, the dismemberment of what was full, the leaching out of what was vibrant and lovely. This is what I will do to you, eventually, slowly, carefully, and without reprieve, as I do it every year to the vegetable world.

Unlike me, though, the vegetable world has a resurrection in store.

Maybe I hate fall because I'm not a believer. Eons ago, in a creative application of botanical facts to the human life cycle, mankind made one of the greatest inventions, from which have sprung art, music, and the moral sense: religion. It's not, however, based on data from clinical trials. But that doesn't stop many people from believing that they, too, will resume their life after their death. If I thought I was coming back bigger and better in April, I might not feel such keen resentment of October.

And now let me contradict everything I've just said.

What I love about fall in New England is the way it makes us all look mortality in the face. I think this is what appeals to everyone, though they may not frame it that way. The fall is as golden and red and pungent and snappy as the last time we saw it, and we are richer or poorer, in love or losing it, expectant or disappointed, but, definitely, no doubt about it, one year further along.

And haven't you thought, some years, when you stand in front of your apartment looking at the maple burning up the end of your street: How many more times will I see this magnificent funeral pyre?