Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Rites of Autumn

Posted By on Wed, Oct 3, 2012 at 8:44 AM

Whew! Happy end-of-festival-season, y’all!

We just wrapped up that time of the year in Memphis when you can’t turn around without bumping into a pop-up tent hawking anything from artisan birdhouses to exfoliating manicure salts. Someone landing in September would think we are a nomadic people, roaming from place to place with our hand-dyed clothing, wooden instruments, and deep-fryers, cursing our rough, dry skin.

As we welcome the arrival of fall, we also celebrate the migration of hummingbirds, the speed of dachshunds, and the … goatiness of goats. We hail champions of burger-making, dragon-boating, and garage-banding. We have a fair, then we have another fair. We pack our bellies and our free tote bags to their very limits.  

It’s almost too much, really. Memphis weather is lovely well into October, so why must we squeeze everything into September? Picking one event means missing at least two others.  

I guess it’s impatience. After surviving a Memphis summer, the idea of being outside without melting into a mosquito-gouged flesh puddle is compelling. Or, as I sang to myself while getting the paper on a recent 57-degree morning, “HOLY CRAP IT’S SO NICE OUT I WANT TO RUN AROUND AND KNIT SOMETHING EXCEPT I CAN’T KNIT AND WEAR BOOTS AND IT’S FALL AND YAAYYYY!” (And that was before my daily lukewarm half-cup of tea.) When the air in Memphis finally drops from tropically dank to merely musty, you want to fill up your lungs with it. And the funny thing about breathing is that it gives you energy to do other stuff. Like hit two midways and a goat chariot race.    

My people in the north are a little more focused. Their fair is nicknamed The Great Minnesota Get-Together, and that’s truly what it is. For 10 days this year, every North-Star-state-dwelling friend of mine checked into the fair on Facebook, some of them multiple times. They posted photos of walleyes-on-a-stick and record-breaking hogs and young pageant hopefuls getting their likenesses carved in butter. I know Southerners think they’ve cornered the market on atrociously unhealthy foodstuffs, but they better get out of the way when Minnesotans are preparing for hibernation.

Because in Minnesota, that’s what the fair is. It’s the official end of summer, always coming to a close on Labor Day. And unlike in my current hometown, there won’t be another month or two of autumnal weather to enjoy. (Well, not normally, anyway. Who knows what’s going to happen in this bizarro year. I have a feeling Dave Brown is one freak storm away from trading in his VIPIR radar for Revelations.) Whereas I now plan my kids' Halloween costumes with humid 76-degree nights in mind, I grew up choosing costumes that would fit a parka underneath.

click to enlarge pumpkins_in_light.jpg

So now each fall, I find myself feeling a deep inner conflict. The Yankee in me is hunkering down, preparing for the possibility that there might be 32" of snow on the ground tomorrow. The Southerner feels the relief of surviving the worst of the year and having weeks of honeyed skies ahead. The longer I’m here, the more I drift toward autumnal optimism. Spending an entire month celebrating what’s great about this city (topped off with, ahem, the Flyer’s annual issue highlighting it) certainly helps, but living here for 13 years is the real foundation. I now know what’s on the way: driving down North Parkway with the windows down and the sun setting behind me, chasing my kids through the Agricenter’s corn maze, spending evenings on patios all over town.             

The shorter days still stir that ancient Nordic wariness, but it gets pushed further and further down each year. The old part of me feels the best is over, but the new part knows the best is yet to come.

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