Saturday, September 24, 2005

Hail to You, Autumnal Equinox

Whether you want to call the season we just entered fall or autumn, all I care about is that summer — my least favorite three months of the year — has given way to fall — my most favorite. We passed the autumnal equinox this Thursday. I took some time at the Hoboken train station, at a sitting area outside, which affords a view from the remaining riverside factories of Chelsea to the new skyscrapers of Little Wall Street in the renascent Paulus Hook district of Jersey City, to watch summer's last hours unfold. I try to take 10 or 15 minutes to sit here each night, weather allowing, and watch the Hudson froth betwen the hundreds of abandoned dock pilings that break the water's surface near the outlook like mute memorials to a forgotten maritime age. Just a little stretch to inhale some fresh air and view the two skylines.

Soon, when Daylight Saving Time begins, these buildings will reflect gorgeous sunsets. The air from the harbor will be cooler and more refreshing, perhaps kicking up whitecaps across the Hudson as it did one day this week. And I may never even get to Hoboken on those nights until sundown, choosing instead to walk through New York City on late fall afternoons and early evenings, crunching fallen leaves along the byways of Greenwich Village, only returning to Jersey when the last rays of the falling sun have melted from the now-sleeping towers crowded along Wall Street.

If I owned a house and chose to give a cookout, it would be in October, high fall, when folks would be comfortable in my yard either catching up with one another's lives, tossing a football, or chasing kids through massive piles of leaves. Not summer, when my guests would be swilling equal parts water and beer to stay hydrated, and cowering in the basement of my house to avoid the pummeling assault of the sun. Not the spring, when my allergies would transform me from perfect host to textbook histamine reaction. And obviously not the winter (although it is my second favorite season, and the idea of barbecuing pounds of slow-cooked brisket and ribs over the course of Super Bowl morning and afternoon for a horde of frothing carnivores to devour during the game has great virtue). No, if I wanted to summon the troops, I would want them to assemble under canopies of orange and yellow leaves and a sky of flawless blue crystal.

Fall as a season of brilliant forest transformation may come early this year, because we received atypically little rain this summer. Early scouts, dropping from trees under cover of night or stiff wind, already have been paratrooping into my parking lot. I have passed curled, crisp maple leaves there, as though Canada had snuck in and left a deciduous calling card. I used to have a view from my desk at work of the southern end of the Jersey Palisades, from the tail of Fort Lee through West New York, and during the autumns I sat there, I watched the cliffs, and the massed trees receding miles into Essex and Passaic County beyond them, burst aflame as if in revolution. The urge to play hooky at these times was difficult to resist. I curse myself for not succumbing.

If I had to choose a season in which to begin a new relationship, it would undoubtedly be fall. In one of his books, Henry Rollins praised the unique way the sun illuminates a woman's face in the fall, so the concept has pierced even his scarred heart. In fall, miniskirts give way to sweaters and boots, making the New York streets a delight. Ideally we might meet in early September, just before fall, so by the time the true turn in temperature had come, we could plan long walks along the Hudson; go on trips for donuts and cider; drive miles along forested highways to watch the spirit of the season burn in the leaves; brainstorm on idle, cool afternoons for Halloween costume ideas; and sleep in each others' arms with the windows wide open, finally needing no air conditioner, just the welcoming caress of autumn night guiding us to carry our affection into our dreams. And with some felicitous grace, I might awaken in the depths of night, to see her face glowing in the moonlight like a Forties film goddess.

That is a movie in which I would star without hesitation.

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