“I always think that when the bairns go back to school, that’s the summer over.” His tone was wistful, sad.
I understood. I felt the same way.
Dad and I were fastening corn stacks, or more likely he was fastening them and I was holding them for him. I never learned; he knew it by heart.
I miss my father at any time of year, but there are some times I miss him more than others. The start of fall is one of those.
Once, Dad was talking about “The Fall” with a colleague. The other man wasn’t from the islands, was either English or Scottish. He laughed and said, “Why do you call autumn the fall? There’s nothing here to fall!”
Dad was amused by this, recognised the truth in it. Trees on the islands are few, and those that exist lie low, shrinking away from westerly gales. Their leaves don’t have far to drop.
Why do Shetlanders use words that aren’t common in the rest of the UK, but are in America? I’m not sure, but when my husband and I read Bill Bryson’s book, Mother Tongue, we discovered many words used in the USA are also used in Shetland. Many of these are Old English terms whose usage had died out in mainland UK, but continued on the islands. Odd, when so many British complain about the “Americanisation” of our language, to discover that perhaps it is British English that has lost its purity. Even on the islands now these terms are dying: few people talk about the fall the way my dad did.
I like the words, “The Fall” – or “Da Faa” as they are spoken in Shetland dialectic. But I share my father’s feelings about the season. I can appreciate the beauty of the trees in autumn, the glorious red leaves that are almost as common in Scotland (apart from the islands) as they are in Vermont or New Hampshire. But I mourn the end of summer, especially the end of long summer days and the dark returning. If you have never experienced a summer night in Shetland, the north of Scotland, Norway, Finland, Alaska or the Northern Territories you probably find it hard to imagine what the fuss is about. But when it’s daylight at ten, eleven or later in the evening – it’s hard to describe, but there’s joy, a sense of limitlessness. Of course, it doesn’t feel like that every day, and when there are clouds and rain all the extra hours of daylight don’t make such a difference. But the combination of sunshine and long summer days is a heady mix.
Once, when I was visiting my parents in mid-July, my Dad, looked outside at 10.30 or so and complained bitterly, “Look, the nights are drawing in; it’s getting dark already. I hate the dark nights! Hate them.”
His annoyance at the dark at a time most people never see light amused me. However, I am my father’s daughter: I love the light. I love spring and I love summer. Autumn, not so much.
I started writing this post at Heathrow airport and as I type now I am in Phoenix eating breakfast. Jetlag has me up early – my body thinks it’s mid-afternoon. As I left my motel room at 6am, dawn had painted the sky orange and pale blue. This time of year at home, it is still dark at 6 am, and soon after I return next week it will be dark when I get up at seven.
Really, my quarrel isn’t with fall, but winter, or at least with the dark mornings that accompany winter. It’s getting out of bed in the dark that I don’t like. I don’t even mind dark nights so much.
When I was a child, I vowed I’d live from March till September in the northern hemisphere and September to March in the southern.
Since that hasn’t happened (yet) I’ve tried different ways to cope.
I’ve tried to avoid the long drag of winter, by copying the birds and migrating south – though we usually only manage a week or two in February. Still, it gave me something to look forward to at this time of year.
I’ve also tried to come to terms with it. For several years I lit candles and burned lavender or frankincense oils while I meditated in the dark. Yet, I still longed for spring.
For me, Fall has long been a time of sadness, grief at summer’s passing, and of anticipation of winter’s dark and cold. Like any form of grief, mine has stages, and the first is denial. Everyone around me is excitedly saying, “Oh good, it’s cooler today so I can wear my new chunky sweater,” while I am checking the weather forecast to see if the temperature might rise to 15 (Celsius) by lunch time, in which case I can wear my cropped trousers one last time. We’ve had an exceptionally mild September this year so I haven’t even had to go into denial, and have worn my cropped trousers without once shivering. Now my trip to Arizona means I get to extend summer a little longer. (Sure to Arizona’s residents the weather is cooler now, but I’m from Scotland!)
One year, the winter I was pregnant, I took denial to extra lengths and stayed in bed till daylight.
I have also tried ignoring my grief, told myself I should be living in the moment, enjoying the glorious beauty fall brings, the brilliance of colour.
But telling myself I should feel differently to how I do is no different to feeling the seasons should be different to how they are! In any case, I do enjoy the autumn colours, even as I sometimes mourn summer. It’s okay to do both.
So that’s where I’m at with fall right now – I accept that it’s not my favourite time of year, and probably never will be. I allow myself to mourn summer a little, and I allow myself to enjoy walks in beautiful woods like the ones in the photos. The day I took these pictures, my daughter and I got lost in among these trees, but we found quiet and peace. (And her iPhone eventually found us the way home again!)