Foreboding Fall: The Sentimentality of a Season

“Whoever has no house now, will never have one.
Whoever is alone will stay alone,
will sit, read, write long letters through the evening,
and wander on the boulevards, up and down,
restlessly, while dry leaves are blowing.”                                     – Rainer Maria Rilke, Autumn Day

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When I was in junior high, there were a group of boys I used to fight with. They were the kind of boys I thought I was too smart to really like, but I was drawn to them despite myself because they were crass and mouthy and just foreign enough from me to possess the otherworldly magnetism that is part of what makes youth such an idealized time.

On a Friday evening, in a neighbourhood leading out to the industrial area towards the parts of Alberta that still remain somewhat unknown, my friends and I ran into them. Like it is in junior high with all of the kids you’re not friends with, we had no particular fondness for each other. On that strange-weathered autumn evening, the boys circled us and we circled them like predator and prey, screaming profane words at each other and doing our own vitriolic dance that would never give way to enlightenment. After twenty minutes, we had moved far enough away from each other to finally dissipate in opposite directions, vexed by all of our leftover angst. It felt like one instalment in a longstanding fight, something that would have to be played out on a different night, in a different time, so some ulterior meaning could be extracted.

Of course, not all stories have a proper end and not all goodbyes are said. Like the leaves that are uncovered after the snow melts, autumn seems to reveal things that cannot be made apparent at any other time; it’s the season of the melancholic, a time of strange awareness and nostalgia. From the vibrant rebirth in spring to the inevitable death of winter, it seems like autumn’s place between the extremes would be subdued, but there is something in it that is contrary to all other seasons.

Unlike winter or spring or summer, autumn has the uncanny ability to recall every other autumn that has come before: the nearly rhythmic rustling of leaves underfoot, the distinct smell of their dryness and disintegration collecting. There is a crispness in the air that can somehow replicate the years when we had to start school again, cool walks we took that remind us of past lives which reform in front of us. With its red and orange leaves, its burning blue skies, the season shakes us with the realization that everything is going even as it remains. Autumn is the only season that presents us with the opportunity to mourn it before it has passed and, in a way, allows us to mourn all other seasons, and all former lives.

A year or two after that run in with the boys, we all escaped into high school, and whatever battle had been was left unfinished. There are days I like to think of how those small wars of youth would have played out to their necessary end, but I realize it is just the chill air rousing some piece of the past that will disappear as soon as the leaves blow away.

The feelings the season evokes are just like fish under the surface of the water reflecting back a second too slowly: you can reach for their fluttering tail but they’re still somewhere else, and the moment they could be captured is gone. There are few proper ends, but fall always remind me that somewhere a beginning still remains left behind as a glimmer, unwavering and eternal.

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