The many shades of autumn

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Fall officially begins Thursday at 8:03 p.m. For many of us it is our favorite season. The reasons usually cited fall down familiar lines – the beautiful colors, the clear, cool days, or maybe even the return of our regular school and work routines.

I contend our love of fall is more nuanced. let me explain.

I recently read that the Japanese have words for 72 different “seasons”. That is, the observation skills of the Japanese are so refined that they can distinguish 18 different “mini-seasons” within each of the four main seasons.

Now that I’ve achieved the metaphorical equivalent of early fall in my own life, and perhaps because I’ve slowed down enough to be more aware, I feel like I’ve started to distinguish some of Minnesota’s mini-seasons.

The first arrived in early August when I spotted an early flock of geese making their way south. (In a way, the geese reminded me of elderly neighbors who seem to be moving south earlier and earlier each year).

The next occurred when I heard an acorn gently tap on a sun-drenched lawn.

Both subtly reminded me of being awakened by my mother when I was young, with a low whisper and a gentle nudge telling me it was time to get ready for the first day of the new school year .

Another mini-season ensued as a single leaf from a maple tree turned a brilliant crimson. It was like a lover throwing you a seductive wink at the start of the evening. It seemed to offer an enticing prelude to things to come.

Without me really noticing, fall had once again set its seasonal foot in my heart. The seduction was so insidious it was hard to spot. It’s like the difference between the first day of the state fair and the last day. The high temperature on both days can hover around 30 degrees, but the sharpness of the cool morning air that greets you at your doorstep on Labor Day somehow draws your attention and fills you with an indescribable optimistic energy that August doesn’t is available.

A week later came another weird mini-season. If you’re alert enough, you can catch it at dusk, when the setting sun’s rays strike a chlorophyll-poor elm leaf at just the right time and angle to deftly highlight a stunning greenish-yellow hue that’s somehow utterly unique to only a few days in early September.

The next mini-season might be a little less pleasant, but it’s no less important. You may have noticed it one evening when, realizing it was dark outside, you turned to the clock and expected it to read 9pm, but were shocked to realize that it wasn’t 8pm yet. Then you think to yourself, “Argh, the days really are getting shorter.” And then it hits you – autumn is a metaphor for life.

Yes, geese fly south and parents and loved ones leave us, but still acorns fall and life begins anew. In between, love can beckon with a wink and every stage of life can be as noble as a fading leaf in the twilight.

We love autumn because it reminds us that we are here on this earthly plane for a fleeting time and it is our job to enjoy every moment that we are allowed to experience.

Jack Uldrich lives in Minneapolis.

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