October 20, 2013
The fountain in a little park in my neighborhood was shut off for the season a couple of weeks ago.
The cicadas were still going at it, though, and as long as they sang their ecstatic song, it was clear the seasons hadn't fully changed. Then one day last week, as fast as you can pull a plug, the sound of the cicadas vanished.
I envisioned them packing their maracas into an old VW van in the middle of the first cold night and heading off to winter in Key West.
Wherever they went, they're gone, another sign of the shifting of the seasons.
The signs of change are everywhere now, despite the straggly flowers that still poke out of window boxes and garden beds, and the few hardy people who insist on wearing sandals.
Sometime last week, after Chicago's October surprise — the sunny days that went on and on — the change arrived for good.
The temperature dropped. The rain came.
People went rummaging through musty drawers for sweaters, turned the heater on, rediscovered a hankering for soup.
A cafe where I sometimes go pulled its outdoor chairs inside. Another posted an announcement that, in honor of the chilly season, it would soon resume selling oatmeal.
"How many more weeks are you here?" I recently asked the guy at the farmers market.
"Two," he said, which by the time this is published will be one.
Fall has finally settled in.
If there were a popularity contest among the months, the winner would be October.
No matter how many songs and poems extol the charms of spring, not everyone loves the pollen of April and May.
June, July and August? They lose the heat-wimp vote.
Nobody loves January. At least nobody I know, not in Chicago, except the people who, sick of holiday cheer, are grateful to escape November and December and return to a world that does not expect them to act happy.
As for February and March, the only reasons to love them, at least in Chicago, is that they're the gateway to kinder weather.
September, it's true, has a lot of fans, but October, the guaranteed people-pleaser, still wins by a hair.
October has something for everybody. Rain and sun. Chill and warmth. Sandals and sweaters.
In October, leaves still cling to the trees, but a few more drop every day, in colors that remind you of the perverse truth that there's nothing like an ending to make you feel alive.
There are, however, two things to hate about October. One is the return of the leaf-blowers. The other is pumpkins.
That's right. Pumpkins.
"Geez," responds a guy I know when I mention that I'm having a problem with pumpkins. "You don't like pumpkins?"
Of course I like pumpkins. Everybody likes pumpkins.
What heart doesn't warm to the sight of a pumpkin on a porch, even if it's accompanied by the recently ubiquitous inflatable ghosts and store-bought cobwebs?
It's pumpkin mania that can make a person crazy.
There was a time when a pumpkin was a pumpkin. Carve it up, stick a candle in, make a pumpkin pie. The humble pumpkin, however, has morphed into a marketing monster.
Autumn as Pumpkinpalooza.
There are pumpkin lattes (Starbucks). Pumpkin bagels (Einstein Bros). Pumpkin pie doughnuts (Dunkin' Donuts). Pumpkin cheesecake doughnuts (Krispy Kreme). Pumpkin pie blizzards (Dairy Queen).
A Trader Joe's flier arrived in the mail last week, promising "All Things Pumpkin." This is not the entire list:
Pumpkin bread mix. Pumpkin yogurt. Pumpkin toaster pastries. Pumpkin waffles. Pumpkin cream cheese muffins. Pumpkin body butter. Pumpkin-flavored dog treats. Pumpkin biscotti. Pumpkin granola. Pumpkin chai. Pumpkin croissants. Pumpkin macarons. Pumpkin spice coffee. Pumpkin ale.
And something called pumpkin on a stick. I don't even want to know.
But to the extent that pumpkin is just a notion, the notion of fall, we may as well enjoy Pumpkinpalooza along with the rest of the new season.
It feels good to change clothes, change habits, to live in a place where the shifts in the seasons make us feel and sense and see how time is always moving forward, and always looping back.
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