Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Sigh of Relief: A Brief Essay.

With that title, you probably thought this was a political essay to follow the breathtaking, history-making events of last night's election. And I realize it’s hard to think of anything but the election right now, but as exciting a political time as it is, I'm guessing you might equally enjoy a short break from the non-stop, round-the-clock multimedia political bombardment. So with that in mind, I submit to you a brief essay I'd like to call 'A Sigh of Relief'.

Well, it seems another summer season has come and gone. The leaves on the trees, what few hang on for dear life, now cast a pale shade of rust. The blankets have returned from their summer vacation. Your tank tops and swim trunks are now neatly tucked away into plastic tubs destined for a long winter slumber in that dark corner of the basement. Halloween is but a memory, a handful of leftover mini-Milky Ways in a big mixing bowl, and a camera full of photographs. The end of daylight savings time has reclaimed that hour you so graciously volunteered back in April, as if returning from a far-away vacation and passing back through an international dateline where that day became tomorrow, and now today has suddenly become yesterday.

There’s something about Halloween that feels so distinctly Fall. Leaf piles, pumpkins, hayrides, trick o’ treats, sweatshirts, hikes over crinkling leaves. Then right on its heels comes that big bully November, who taunts with an Indian summer or two, like today, while he literally beats the life out of the landscape. The brilliant hues of the Fall backdrop are replaced with a dull blur of burnt sienna. Jack o’lanterns that once danced dazzlingly in their own candlelight now lay lonesome and shriveled into themselves, like old discarded apple cores long past their purpose. What was yesterday’s amazing Halloween wonderland - a neighbor’s lawn decorated stoop to sidewalk with ghosts, goblins, mock tombstones, and giant spider webs, now looks like a tacky and picked over aisle in the seasonal section of Target. Amid the Halloween hangover, replete with egg carcasses, strewn toilet paper, and candy wrappers littering the streets hangs a general morose, like a collective coming down from a long weekend sugar high.

What’s there to look forward to now? Thanksgiving, the year’s biggest meal, followed by four hours of football and a half as long nap? Don’t get me wrong, Thanksgiving is a great holiday, custom-designed for family fun to compliment the unabashed gluttony. But let’s face facts, the passing of Halloween brings with it days that plunge us into darkness before five o’clock and throw frost on those decaying pumpkins every morning, foreshadowing the many dreary months of weather debauchery such as snow, ice, and bone-chilling, wind-chilling cold to follow. Ah, just around the bend awaits Old Man Winter, the ultimate unwelcome guest.

You’d think as an ice cream guy, I’d be a lined up right beside Chekhov (‘winter as bleak and bereft of hope’), a fully-sanctioned dreader of anything that sniffs of winter. Believe it or not, I actually enjoy this time of year. The summer has come and gone, hopefully leaving us with a fistful of ‘fun in the sun’ memories. For me, if the ice cream gods have shown down on me through the on-season, my barn should be full of hay. My array of previous professions doesn’t include farming, but I’d imagine what I feel at this time of year is akin to a farmer’s Autumn sigh of relief, the time when Bob is finally able to catch his breath after so many long days and months spent toiling in the field. For me, as the farmer, the work doesn’t end after the first killing frost or the end of daylight savings, but the pace of life certainly does change considerably. And after all those days ‘making hay while the sun shines’, we giddily meet this change at the door, enthusiastically invite her in, and say ‘Damn, it’s good to see you!’ The bank account never has the same reaction, but just as the early darkness seems to provide more time for those indoor projects you never have time for when darkness doesn’t descend until nine, the off-season gives me a much better shot at balancing that work-life scale, albeit on a little tighter budget.

So it seems to me there are two ways to look at the coming of another winter. You can grimace at the end of long days and warm nights while you cringe at the thought of being cold all the time and shoveling snow as high as streetlights. Or you can see the baring trees and grey skies as a chance to catch your breath, savor the great moments of the past season, and actually look forward to that inevitable slowing down of things that seems to come with shorter days and colder nights. You may not enjoy digging out your car or driving to work on a particularly snowy morning, but you have to admit the anticipation of a big storm, waking up to a fresh and cleansing blanket of white, or the ultimate, a giant storm that stops everyone and everything in its tracks is at least a little exciting to think about, don’t you agree?

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