Fall is so beautiful. I hate fall.

The other day, we drove past the gas station and we all sniggered a little bit at a man taking pictures of a tree. He was just such a classic leaf peeper, a dude in a well-cut suit and a flashy car with out-of-state plates, beaming like a goon at a maple tree that wasn’t even that great. It’s a good week and a half past peak leaf season, and things have turned fairly brown and bare around here. 

Last week, it was spectacular. Last week, the colors were overwhelming. The sky was a high, icy blue and the trees were so bright, they were deafening. The fields and mountains were crowded, almost hysterical with strange, unleaflike colors, salmon and coral and burgundy and chartreuse, violent crimsons shading into deep carmine. Everyone talks about the maple trees, but the humble sumacs had also caught fire and turned into fringes of wild flame, and the aspens were a disorderly haze of yellow sparks. Invasive vines are an unholy pink crawling everywhere like boas, and the thick mat of poison ivy goes fire engine red. It’s incredibly beautiful. I hate it. 

Every year, it takes me by surprise that more people don’t understand how painful this season is. It begins when you’re prancing along through the middle of your summer, really just getting started. You’re thinking you need to get to the beach more, and maybe you need to plant more seeds in your garden. So many possibilities yet to come in this lovely, giving, fruitful time of year. 

And there, on the surface of the pool, floats a single red leaf. Outrageous. It’s unmistakably an autumn leaf, one that has run out of chlorophyll, made the change, lost its grip, succumbed to death. And it’s only July! Too soon! Far too soon! And yet this is how it goes every year. One little leaf, and then the next week you see three, and then a whole branch branch has turned. Everything else is still abundantly green, still graciously growing and thriving, but still, you can’t help but feel that cold finger prodding you on the back: Hurry up. Time is running out. You’re running out of time. Hurry. Running out. Run.

And it gathers speed from there. A little tinge of yellow creeps along the edge of a hedge; a little seam of red appears along the bottom of a tree. The flowers on the side of the road take on a dusty look, and the ground begins to dry out and it stays dry, no matter how often you water it. Day by day, everything that grows and moves gets a little more weary, a little more stale, a little more worn out, because it is wearing thin, it is being used up, it is running out. The morning dew gathers and becomes bold and heavy, and it does not disperse when you walk through it. The air is more ponderous; the locusts are more brazen. The birdsong takes on a frantic edge as the days seep away, and everyone is leaving, flying away. All the fruit that grows is forming a hard little cap at the end of its stem because it is separation time, end time. Time’s up.  

Everything is dying. This is what fall means. You open your eyes in the morning and you can feel it. The colors of the trees are just the high color of the final fever before the world’s final breath. I feel it all the time, and I do not understand when people tell me they love fall.

I see how pretty it is. It is lovelier than anything you can imagine. But it’s the beauty of ecstasy, of peril, of panic. It’s the kind of thing you cannot bear for long, and that only leads in one direction, and that is down toward darkness. 

This sounds crazy, I realize. It’s just a season, and we always survive it. But it’s very hard, every year. What sounds crazy to me is when people step outside in the slanted, weary light and take a deep breath of that sharp, shuttered air, and they open their eyes to all the signs of loss and decay you can feel with every cell of your body, and they say, oh! Pumpkin spice time!
I don’t begrudge it. Irish fisherman sweaters and cozy socks are excellent, and it helps a lot to keep busy picking apples, baking pies and making soup, winterizing the house and designing Halloween costumes. But someone did ask why I hate fall, so this is my answer. The cold finger at my back has flattened itself into a heavy palm, pushing and pushing between my shoulder blades because time is almost up, and I feel it all the time, every year. It’s a great mystery to me that you don’t feel it, too. 




Photo by Kelly Ishmael via Negative Space (Creative Commons)

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21 thoughts on “Fall is so beautiful. I hate fall.”

  1. I found this in searching for something related and it caught my eye instead. I think you said it all and far better than I could verbalize. ❤

  2. This was beautiful! I also am one of those who like fall in part BECAUSE of its vague melancholy. It is like the twilight of the year—not quite summer, not quite winter. (Twilight is also my favorite part of the day—it just feels more magical than prosaic blazing noon sunlight.) The Roman poet Horace reflected often on this tension: that the shortness of human life is both a sadness…and a gift, because knowing that our time is limited, is what motivates us to really live our lives to the fullest and make the most of the time we do get. He has a relatively-famous poem in which he reflects that SPRING is melancholy because it makes him think about how Nature gets new springs every year, but man only gets one: one youth, never repeated. I think maybe summer is the only season that *doesn’t* have some way of making us think about our own mortality…and it is my least favorite season because of the heat and the sunburn and the sweat and the bugs and the damp, mildewy towels that my kids leave everywhere after playing in the sprinkler outside. 🙂

  3. You’ve perfectly captured how my husband feels about Fall. Not me – I love everything about Fall, except all the hustle that goes along with my kids going back to school. For me, Fall is the end of the old but it is also a chance to start something new. The perfect time to work the soil and plant bulbs or start a new diet or healthy exercise habit. I suppose starting a new grade in school each year helped foster that everything is starting over feeling, but also having lived in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods for a good part of my life, small businesses and strangers would often wish me a “Happy New Year!” for about a week in mid September. For me, that feels right.

    My husband will always see Fall as life’s last gasp before death sets in but I will say the change stopped affecting him so profoundly once he started taking a Vitamin D and an MK-4 supplement. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is real!

  4. Good one. Good ending line, too. That seems like the most difficult part. Reminds me of two things, a poem by Janes Wright and a passage from Merton

    Too soon, too soon, a man will come To lock the gate, and drive them home. / Then, neighing softly through the night, / The mare will nurse her shoulder bite. / Now, lightly fair, through lock and mane She gazes over the dusk again,
    And sees her darkening stallion leap
    In grass for apples, half asleep.
    Lightly, lightly, on slender knees
    He turns, lost in a dream of trees.
    Apples are slow to find this day, Someone has stolen the best away.
    Still, some remain before the snow,
    A few, trembling on boughs so low
    A horse can reach them, small and sweet: / And some are tumbling to her feet.
    Too soon, a man will scatter them, Although I do not know his name, His age, or how he came to own
    A horse, an apple tree, a stone.
    I let those horses in to steal
    On principle, because I feel
    Like half a horse myself, although Too soon, too soon, already. Now.

    “Day unto day uttereth speech. The clouds change. The season pass over our woods and fields in their slow and regular procession, and time is gone before you are aware of it. Christ pours down the Holy Ghost upon you from Heaven in the fire of June, and then you look about you and realize that you are standing in the barnyard husking corn, and the cold wind of the last days of October is sweeping across the thin woods and biting you to the bone. And then, in a minute of so, it is Christmas, and Christ is born.” (The Seven Storey Mountain, 407)

  5. I realized that when my youngest graduated, I didn’t hate fall, I hated K-12 education. Now it’s my favorite time of the year🙂

    1. I just happened on this beautiful piece. Yes! You express do clearly what I feel every year. And now as I get older, and now that I have experienced a number of heavy losses, it’s more difficult than ever to fight the sadness that creeps up every September.

  6. I’m an avid lover of autumn. I used to live in Texas, where it didn’t really exist. Now I live in Tennessee and it is the best…and winter doesn’t last all that long either. Life is good near the Mason-Dixon line!

  7. Every year my mother and I would have a gentle argument about this same subject – she loved fall and I do not – I appreciate that it is cooler and the leaves are pretty and all that, but it gets dark earlier, the tomatoes and basil wind down, the flowers in my garden begin to die, I have to start wearing more clothes and am cold in my house even with three layers on, and the fable of Persephone totally makes sense – it is a long time until spring and summer come around again and I sigh and try to make the best of it but it hurts to see the world turn brown and gray around me and the garden I loved so much gone for another year. I would not characterize it as seasonal affective disorder; more as sadness that the color and warmth have gone out of our surroundings. However, each day brings us closer to the next spring…

  8. I live far, far south from you, in a place where summer is the cruelest season. The sun beats down hard, and everything turns brown and dried up and prickly. Unless we get rain, then it turns into a suffocating marshy, steamy mess that coats your skin and lungs when you walk outside.

    When fall starts here, it’s like a second spring. Flowers bloom again, and I re-plant our vegetable garden. Butterflies migrate through on their way to Mexico (the open areas are full of them, and they fly up when you walk through brushy areas). It’s just started really cooling down in earnest here, and it’s finally nice enough to leave the screen doors and windows open. My kids actually WANT to play outside now too, and will stay out there even if I’m not out there or some sort of water fixture isn’t on.

    Weirdly, the trees still lose their leaves. There’s no blaze of color or gradual process; they just turn from green to brown one day and fall off. Normally not totally gone until December. And then they’re back again in March.

    Winter isn’t a death so much as a sleep. We really only have a month or two of it, and snow is a rare occurrence. Fall isn’t a death for me; it’s a coming back awake.

    I imagine if I lived up north, it’d be completely depressing though. Even here, I have loved ones who struggle with the loss of light and shorter days. I can’t imagine braving it at a higher latitude- I think that part alone would drive me insane. Y’all are made of sterner stuff.

  9. What an eloquent, evocative essay about something I don’t understand. I’m one of the fall lovers, and I absolutely feel the sense of ending you feel, but it does not inspire in me panic or peril, rather a peaceful melancholy and wistfulness, along with the beginning of a sense of anticipation for the holidays, which of course come after the end.

    It’s the summers I hate. The humidity and stickiness and sweatiness, having to constantly apply anti-frizz goop and sunscreen, the sun beating down on my head the second I step outside. Roaches and ants and mosquitos. Noisy air conditioners. Watching everyone else take vacations I can’t because of money and the needs and health problems of my family. Settling on a couple of easy, fun things to do, and watching the summer slip by with none of them happening. Juggling work with inconvenient schedules for summer school and summer camp and youth work programs. And all the while, having newscasters and writers and social media types loudly talk about how much I must be enjoying the beach/the pool/camping/easy summer hours/salads/road trips/this fabulous hot weather.

    And then fall comes, and the kids go back to their old schedules, and I can open the windows to a lovely breeze, and the trees are pretty, and baking makes sense again.

    1. I am with you on summer. Heat makes my head ache, and I have low blood pressure, so getting overheated is no good either, and I’m highly allergic to all manner of bug bites. I hate having to run air conditioning just to be able to sleep. So for me, spring is like fall for those who dislike winter–spring is just a reminder that the hateful season of summer is coming.

  10. This feels poetic and sad and completely unbelievable to me sitting where I am in the Mohave Desert. But I read every word and considered whether I feel that same finger on my back in spring when I know the searing heat is soon to be. I think I do. I wish we could trade.

  11. I also hate fall. It’s the most depressing season because it starts at a good point and just goes down from there: darker, wetter, colder.
    It’s so deprived of hope! (Hope is the reason I love spring so much)
    But if you hate this season so much, why did you get married in the fall?

  12. I thought of Gerard Manley Hopkins, his lovely and sad poem Spring and Fall – I expect you did too. I love Natalie Merchant’s setting of it to music.

  13. This post is poetry! I absolutely loved the imagery. I cannot, however, relate to your dread of fall. Here in Louisiana we can only dream of our trees displaying the beauty you describe. Ours go from green to dead and brown overnight. Thank you for blessing me and others with your charism of writing.

    1. Ditto–for us on the Gulf Coast it’s all about relief from the brutal heat, which lingers through September and sometimes even into October.

  14. Dearest Simcha,

    I so look forward to your weekly essays but this one spoke to exactly how I’ve been feeling forever about this time of year. I love the beauty as you do but I also feel the finger and then palm of death nudging us toward it.
    The long winter is awaiting us and I dread it every year.

    Thank you.

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