Friday, September 9, 2011

Seasonal Vertigo

"Summer ends, and Autumn comes, and he who would have it otherwise
would have high tide always and a full moon every night." -Hal Borland

I am in no hurry to say goodbye to summer.  Summer is long here and the nights are beautiful.  Summer is freedom and warmth.  Summer brings out the neighbors and their kids play in the park down the road and their games sound like joy given voice.  Summer smells like barbecues and rosemary and hefeweizen.  

But autumn is short here and the break from the heat is precious and invigorating.  Autumn is quiet and cozy.  In autumn we rake leaves and find that we can look up through the branches and see clouds in the sky again.  Autumn is when we take walks together and when it becomes permissible to drink hot chocolate again.  Autumn smells like apples and smoke and nutmeg.  I am looking forward to autumn. 

And so it has become tradition for me to sit down around this time of year and grapple with the psychological vertigo that I succumb to when I begin to take notice of the dark in the evenings and how school buses have emerged from memory and make their plodding way through the neighborhood.  I start to feel the dizziness when the mornings are cooler than they were just a heartbeat ago and when football season literally kicks off. 

Everyone feels the change and knows what it means.  Fall is coming.

I also succumb to the gardening cliche of buying mums in the fall.

And yet, in my non-native home of California, it is still going to top 100 degrees today.  I struggle to reconcile what my internal clock says is happening with what the nerve endings in my skin tell me: that summer is still very much here.

In America, we spend 13 of our most impressionable years in school.  More if we go to college.  By the time we find ourselves navigating our way through life in the “real world” our psyches are fused with the academic calendar.  Labor Day comes and something in us tells us that life needs to change course because we are used to going back to school after Labor Day.

I work in an office where any one day is practically indistinguishable from the last.  Though there’s something to be said for predictability, that daily sameness that I can depend upon all year suddenly seems to stand in stark opposition to the post-Labor Day feeling that my schedule is supposed to change. 

For the life of me, I can’t decide if spending time in the garden helps me cope with this disorientation or if it just makes it worse.  On one hand, I sense the subtle presence of autumn’s approach and I am gladdened by the sensation.  It is reflected in little ways like a new flush of growth in trees that seemed to sleep all summer.  

The new growth on my Acer palmatum 'koto-no-ito'
is very different than the old growth.

On the other hand, it is still too hot for me to safely move those same trees to new locations in the garden and I feel frustration and impatience rise up in me as I am forced to wait for the kinder days ahead.

I wonder if I will ever find my equilibrium in these times of transition.  In a couple years my daughter will start school and we will surely find our movements in perfect step with the rhythm of the academic calendar again.  I suspect this will delay any progress I would have made.

So while I wait for balance to find me, I am trying to find some truism to hang my hat on that will help me frame my outlook.  I have tried to tell myself that perhaps this feeling is my new normal for this time of year.  Perhaps feeling disjointed is a more honest encounter with the not always smooth transfer of the baton from the running hands of summer to the waiting hands of autumn.  Or perhaps this dizziness is just life's effort to trip me up for a minute so I will stop and take notice of all the ineffable changes taking place in the air, in time, and in me.   

Crepe Myrtle blossoms have littered my sitting area.  But I couldn't sit here anyway because this
'Glowing Embers' Japanese maple has put on several feet of
gangly growth this summer and now stretches across my chair.


  1. I always hate the end of summer. I try to make myself content with autumn, atleast we don't go straight to winter.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  2. I, too, hate the end of summer, although you would think I would welcome a reprieve from the hot temperatures. But you have made autumn sound so lovely, I can now appreciate its coming. I think most of us feel a bit unsettled during this transitioning time. Like the creatures, I think our internal clocks can tell a difference in the amount of daylight hours, and we know deep down winter is coming - we need to prepare.

  3. I nearly feel ashamed but summer into fall is the best moment of the year for me. In fall everyone and everything seem to breath out, after they've been holding during the heat of summer. The air has a different scent, you can smell it, I love autumn.


  4. Cher - Can you imagine how cruel it would feel if we went straight from summer into winter? I don't even like to imagine it.

    Holley - I'm glad my post is helping you look forward to autumn a little more. I try to be content with the moment, but these transitional times make it harder to do that.

    Alberto - Take no shame in that. I'm envious that you can enjoy the moment. Once autumn is here for good though, I feel the same way. Autumn is beautiful.

    Thanks for reading and posting your comments everyone!

  5. Wow, you just described how I feel to a T. I grew up in the Midwest where fall was a definite season, coolness, leaves changing color, starting school, a slowing down, winter coming. Now that I live in the south -- and I garden -- fall is a time of gearing up, planting, transplanting, planning. I guess part of me is just worn out from the summer and I still have some of my old roots ingrained in me, wanting to slow down, get ready for winter. The the other part of me is saying, no, get going, there's a million things to do in the garden, now is the time -- but it's still hot and I can't. It is an unsettled feeling, know I need to DO yet knowing I need to hold off a bit longer. Seasonal vertigo -- you nailed it.

  6. Gardening's greatest lesson is 'nothing lasts forever.' I say cherish the transition too! The last sentence in your post is most poignant. Onward and upward!

  7. I lived in Sac for 10 years and even as a teen, the lack of four seasons drove me crazy. We used to head up to the foothills and go to the Apple House for cider and donuts to remind us that fall existed somewhere. Here in northern VA, our seasons are distinct, which is wonderful. I always felt that Sac had two seasons: hot and dry or not hot with a chance of rain. Hop in the car and head for Napa. All those changing leaves will be good for the soul!

  8. Toni - Wow, it sounds like you and I really are on the same page here. Thanks for reading my blog and commenting. It's always nice to hear that others feel the same way about something.

    M. - Indeed, nothing lasts forever. Thanks for reading.

    Casa - I've been in Sacramento for 11 years now and the lack of seasons still bothers me. But you are right that we're close enough to wonderful places like Napa, Apple Hill, and South Lake Tahoe where there are more definite seasons. We're going to make a trip up to Apple Hill in a couple weeks for some pumpkins and, of course, apple pies.

  9. I look forward to the transition from one season to the next and I truly think my garden does too.

  10. Beautifully written. I live and work at my nursery so I am always outside and changing with the seasons. I love fall because it's beautiful, but I hate fall because it means winter is coming. I really do like snow, but I hate cold, gray days that seem to go on forever. I think it has to do with the change in light and possible SAD.

  11. Gardenwalk - I think I look forward to the next season, but the actual transition is something that I am struggling with still. Once we get entrenched in the new season though, I find that I learn a lot about my garden. Every winter, for example, I realize how my garden lacks evergreens. I need to remedy that.

    Carolyn - thanks for stopping by my blog. I remember reading your blog in the past. Your gardens and nursery are beautiful and so different from what I garden in. I agree with you about SAD! I wrote a blog post about SAD last winter, I think.

  12. Chad, I loved that line about "our psyches ... fused with the academic year." That is so true for me, since I've been starting school every fall for -- well, just about forever. No matter what I understand at some intellectual level about the symbolism of fall as decline, I *know* that fall is the fresh and exciting beginning of a brand new, unsullied school year, a blank notebook just waiting for us to write our lives in it. Having grown up in New England where fall is the most beautiful season of the year probably reinforces this. For me, fall always brings feelings of exhilaration. -Jean

  13. Beautiful post! Sometimes I think the transition from season to season can bring sadness because even though there is much to look forward to we are leaving something behind - it reminds us of the swift passage of time, missed opportunities, and how quickly the children grow up. I know that from experience - mine have grown up, moved out, married, and had children of their own - but it seems we were just taking those first day of school pictures :)

  14. Jean, thank you for the thoughtful response. I remember that when I was in school, I most definitely measured time in terms of school years. And in that sense, September really was the start of the new year.

    Well said, Ginny. I'm doing my best to cherish these moments with my young daughter and this season in my life. Thanks for the reminder to seize the day.

  15. That was a beautiful post, Chad. Here in New York, it's already starting to cool off and the first hints of red can be seen on the maples. I am emphatically NOT looking forward to winter (who's idea was snow, anyway??) but I do enjoy fall. Especially apple picking!

  16. Thank you, Sharie. I often find myself envious of the beautiful autumns that those of you in the northeast and Pacific northwest get to experience. Having grown up in Washington state, I'm no stranger to snow either. So one of the things that I appreciate most about living in Sacramento is that though our winters are rainy, our idea of "really cold" is 45 degrees. I also like not having to get snow tires. And not digging my way out of the driveway after the snow plows come by. And not worrying about black ice while driving. And getting frostbite . . . Hah! I guess there are a lot of things I don't miss about real winters.

  17. Like yours, our transitions are dictated more by the school calendar. While other gardeners are posting their first snowfall, we'll be getting around to posting our fall "color"! One of the attributes I love most about this time of the year is the quality of the light. It's so beautifully captured in your first shot.

  18. Thanks, Cat! Unfortunately, too many of my photos on this blog are taken with the camera on my phone, but I was happy with that first picture which was taken with a "real" camera.

  19. Hello Chad, Great post and so well-written. I was out working in the garden the other day when a school bus drove by and I just sat back on my ample haunches and thought, 'Oh, no. Not already!' My boys are now men and we don't have the school calendar to contend with, but just hearing that bus grinding through the gears sent a shiver down my spine. Winter isn't far away.

    Look at the exuberant growth on your Japanese maple, and I'm doubly envious because you can grow Japanese Maples. Here in the Rust Belt, they are NOT happy!

  20. Hi Karen! Thank you for stopping by my blog. I do love my Japanese maples, but growing them here is not without its challenges. The scorching heat being the main one. It is difficult to find just the right place for a Japanese maple because I have to find a spot that protects from the afternoon sun but still gives them enough light to allow them to get that great coloring.