Fall is an ambiguous season. I just realized that on Monday. I don't know why it never hit me before; but I guess it was a timely realization, since yesterday was the official beginning of fall.
Fall has always been my favorite time of year. The crispness of the air, the brightness of the leaves, the seemingly accentuated brilliance of the blue sky and the resulting clarity of the day underneath all these things have always combined to make me feel, somehow, more alive.
But on Monday, I realized that there is necessarily, perhaps a sense of melancholy about fall; a premonition of loss and the proximity of death.
The air was oppressive as I drove to the library to look up something. The sky seemed low, the dark clouds brooding, waiting to unburden themselves of the downpours that did, indeed, come later that afternoon.
But as I sat at the stop sign underneath the tree, there were no heavy raindrops falling, only leaves. They half glided, half plummeted to the ground in the sultry wind.
It was then that I felt, for the first time in recent memory, at least, the sadness of fall.
The trees are losing their leaves. The bright coverings, so full of life and the fertility of summer, are losing their grips on the limbs they clothed and giving themselves to the ground.
It probably sounds melodramatic, or maybe just ridiculous, but do the trees feel the loss? Do the leaves?
Do the trees know that for the next five or so months they will be naked, exposed to the vindictiveness of the cold and wind skeletal silhouettes against the evening skies that approach earlier and earlier each day?
Do the leaves know that they will spend the dark months trampled underfoot, unless they happen to be raked up, maybe for burning, by a zealous groundskeeper? That without the nourishment-carrying arteries of the tree they will shrivel, and crumble at the touch?
Do they care? Or do they simply accept that this is just the natural order of things? Or do they have a dim sense that somewhere, someone intended it to be this way, and that this someone will somehow work everything out right in the end?
Of course, to the best of our knowledge, neither the trees nor the leaves think any of these things or anything at all. Musings like these are our blessing, or, depending on one's perspective, our burden.
The pagan nature worshippers, such as the ancient Celts, accepted the fall and the inevitable winter with a mixture of gratitude and dread. They were grateful for the harvest; they dreaded the winter and the spirits of darkness that would have free reign.
They knew that if they could just make it through the winter, through the darkness, the spring would come and life and light would return.
It is a cycle that is easily allegorized, easily moralized lending itself readily to such glib assertions as, "It's always darkest just before dawn."
But my purpose here is not to spout such maxims, even if they are true. My purpose is to simply note that fall is approaching: darkness is falling sooner; the nights are cooler; a few leaves are beginning to let go.
With its invigoration, with its melancholy and, yes, even with its hope, may we all enjoy this year's fall.
Clay Wilson is the education reporter for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.