As if on cue, summer disappeared on the 31st of August and autumn showed up in its place. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a fast change of seasons. Though it’s supposed to get a bit warmer again on the weekend, there’s a certain brisk clarity to the air that tells me it will be about 8 months before I’m really warm again. I’ve been packing boxes of clothes and mailing them to England, and since it was summer when I started doing this (like, less than a week ago), I packed up most of my warm fuzzy clothes and shipped them off. And now I’m walking around wearing about 5 layers of the warmest clothing I have left, and when I look at all the shorts and t-shirts and sandals that are sitting around in my room, I wonder what on earth I was thinking.
But even when I have access to all my warm fuzzy clothing, I generally have extremely mixed feelings about the change from summer to fall and then to winter. I’m not a sun-worshipper and I’m not really a huge fan of hot weather (I despise getting sweaty), but I still start feel a strange sort of apprehension as summer draws to an end. When the days start getting shorter, when the breeze turns cooler, when the air has a bite to it, then I start thinking about the long months of darkness stretching out ahead of me: October… November… December… January… February… March… And when I really brood on it, the idea of winter in its chilly entirety is a dismal and oppressive idea indeed.
The thing is, I don’t really dislike fall and winter in and of themselves. Cool fresh air energizes me and although I get cold easily, I love it when it snows. I like the holiday season; Halloween is the best holiday of the entire year, with Christmas being a very close second. I like wintry foods like stews and roasts, I like pumpkins and pies and hot chocolate and spiced cider. I like sitting in front of fireplaces and I like wearing big woolly sweaters. I like how my cheeks turn red when it’s cold outside. I love the smell of pine branches. I love flannel. I love candles and Christmas lights.
But it’s the darkness that I hate, and I feel a growing dread as the days start to shrink and fade. I know that the days have actually been getting shorter and shorter since the end of June, but I don’t notice it in the middle of summer when it’s still warm and light out at 10:30 at night. In the middle of September, however, I notice it. I feel uncomfortable in this transitional phase from the warm, bright season to the cold, dark one. It gets harder and harder for me to drag myself out of bed in the grey mornings, and then the brief, dimly lit days just flit by me, and the long nights seem to stretch on forever.
I think I have an almost primeval fear of the dark in the general and of the darkness of winter in particular. The earlier the sun sets, the stronger my impulse becomes to run home and turn on every light in my house. I understand the instinct to light bonfires to drive away the darkness. I turn on the television to fill up the room with light and sound, but I could just as well be shouting and flailing about in a mask to repel the evil spirits of winter - after all, the impulse is the same. All the bright, loud marvels of the modern world have not succeeded in banishing this ancient dread of the dead season of the year.
But strangely enough, I don’t feel all of that dread so much this year - not yet, anyway. I think it’s been a blessing that summer ended so abruptly. I didn’t have time to brood on the slightly melancholy atmosphere of the last days of summer. I didn’t have the chance to really mourn the waning warmth and start to fear the approaching cold. In general, I just didn’t have the chance to think about it all so much. Instead, I woke up on the last day of August and the cold was already there. And to be honest, I kind of like it. It’s a refreshing change from the stifling humidity of the summer. I really do feel quite energized by it.
I wish I could just hang on to this wonderful, refreshed, energized feeling for the next several months. But being the optimist that I am, I suspect that by the middle of January, when I’m cold all the time and it’s dark by 4 in the afternoon and I’m suffering through a miserably wet winter on the English coast, I will once again feel the need to buy myself a sun lamp or buy myself a plane ticket to the tropics or at least turn on all the lights and dance around the room to drive off the demons of winter.