Fall is, by far, my favorite season. It used to be Winter, but as I have gotten older Fall has taken its place at the top of the seasonal heap. Summer is too full of sweat. Spring is way too flashy for someone like me. Winter is a close second to Fall, but it lacks the feeling of change that I have come to like so well.
I especially like a long drive alone in the car in the Fall. Loud music, beautiful sunlight, colorful hills, and that feeling of change in the air—what is better?
So I was in absolute heaven two weeks ago on a Friday afternoon that was the Platonic ideal of a Fall Friday afternoon. It was 61 degrees, the sun was shining, there was a light breeze carrying the smell of the fires people had lit in fireplaces all over Upstate New York that morning to take the chill out of their living rooms, and I was alone in the car, driving 520 miles across New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and part of Indiana. I had a local, low-power radio station on and the DJ was just nailing it.
It was one of those public stations that gives the small-time DJ latitude to play whatever the hell he or she wants to play. This particular guy was playing the Avett Brothers, the Kinks, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, Regina Spektor, and Wilco. While driving west on Route 79 I was transported to another plane. It was one of those moments where, even in the moment, you are aware of how stinkin’ good it can feel to be alive.
And then I heard the first few notes and hummed lines of the Paul Simon song “Slip Slidin’ Away.” (This song is one I have written about before. Immediately, thoughts of my Dad drifted in with the music. He died a few months ago, fairly unexpectedly while cutting the grass. Thinking about him and hearing the line “believe we’re gliding down the highway when in fact we’re slip slidin’ away” led me to think about my own death, whenever that will be. And, oddly, these thoughts of death didn’t really take away the great feeling I had about being on a road trip in the Fall. Instead, they co-existed right alongside each other. In fact, the awareness of death actually made the happiness stand out even more pronouncedly. It was never more clear to me than in that moment how the pleasure and the pain of life are inextricably bound to each other.
The pain makes the pleasure even more valuable; and the pleasure makes the pain more endurable.
Our awareness of our own death is just baked right into the mix. Ain’t none of us gets outta here alive. And while this truth sucks more than any of us can put into words, it is also this very suckiness that makes the good moments so much richer and deeper and better. Nothing lasts. Summer turns to Fall. Things die. People die. And it hurts like a kick to the gut when somebody good in your life dies.
Fall contains all of this and what I feel in the Fall makes me feel more alive than any other season.
This, in the end, is why I like the Fall so much. And yet, even as I write this, that moment in the car is already two weeks old. And it too is slip slidin’ away.