by Barbara Anne Radtke In my teens, I read a short story, probably in Seventeen magazine, called “In August, a Realization.” I cannot recall anything about the story, but the title has stuck with me. It drifts into my mind in mid-August every year when I have to admit that, as much as I may try to hold onto summer, a change of season will be realized shortly.
There is no denying the days are shorter now. If you are an early riser in New England, you notice that the clock is well past 5 a.m. before the first rays of sun appear over the horizon. More notably, we have had the first sunset before 8 p.m. It will not set at 8 p.m. or later again until sometime next April.
“August green” is a color that my friend and I coined years ago. Except for the potato vines that continue indefinitely in their spring green splendor, the green of the deciduous trees and bushes deepen and dull, gathering their strength for the profusion of fall color. Visiting my sister in August, she always mentions how the change in the color of iron weed signals the end of summer. Our mother always pointed out the Queen Anne’s lace. Having a birthday in late August, and being named Anne, she felt these blossoms were messengers of her coming birthday. I found them harbingers of fall. Plant nurseries help encourage minds and hearts to turn to this new season, bringing out the fledgling mums with their flower buds closed like little fists ready to battle an early autumn epiphany.
There are many social signs of fall. The first ads for “back-to-school” are a perennial salute to fall and the “commercialization of everything.” (Hats off, by the way, to the city of Leominster, MA, which is providing all the back-to-school supplies and activity fees for the children in their schools. With this vote, the school committee anticipates saving parents over $600 per child to get ready for the new school year.) In the Boston area, we recently joined the town of Canton in cheering on their Little League team in the New England Regionals in their quest for a spot in the Little League World Series. This world series, much earlier than the competition of their professional team counterparts, reminds me that the seasonal sports hand off is about to begin. High school football teams are already practicing on local fields and the New England Patriots have had their first pre-season game.
I must say that with all these signs of the times my heart always sunk a little and, even in retirement, still sinks today. From so early in life they meant “back-to-school.” Don’t get me wrong: I was a kid who liked school. I liked it so much I stayed – grade through grad. I continued to stay “on the other side of the desk”– as a teacher’s aide, a classroom teacher, a catechist. When I chose a field of study, I found great joy in teaching--as an undergrad and grad instructor and as a specialist in continuing education and online learning for a university.
Yet, with the advent of each fall, like an impending New Year’s Eve, it also prompts taking inventory. What on my many lists – to do, to visit, to read – did I accomplish? What remains undone? It also prompts feelings about the passing of time. I often hear folks say wistfully that, despite their best efforts to pay attention, summer slipped by too quickly. (Have you ever heard anyone be unhappy that they have to surrender winter?) Often folks, even if their schedules are not closely affected by the change of season, anticipate leaving summer behind with a little sadness. Perhaps they are not ready to relinquish longer, warmer days, the freedom of less structure to their discretionary time, or fewer layers of clothing to accompany them when they go outdoors.
As you can see, I am definitely a person who resists this season change. Even though the summer of 2023 has brought such weather extremes, to see it leave saddens me. How about you? What do you regret about changing the calendar to fall? To what do you look forward? Or, both!
Response by Kathy Hendricks
Thank you, Barbara, for a beautiful description of late summer’s colors and sensations. Growing up in Colorado, I have a great sensitivity to the angle of the sun as the seasons pass. We have so many days of sunshine that it makes tracking the season by morning and afternoon shadows a natural instinct. In mid-August we start to note a “touch of fall” in the air, even when the temperatures are in the 90’s.
Like you, I have mixed feelings about this time of transition. Since my birthday is on September 1st, I looked forward to the end of summer as I couldn’t wait to celebrate with a party and presents. School, however, was about to begin (unlike today, it was always after Labor Day). I dreaded it as I found the work tedious and the huge class (50 children, on average) intimidating.
Autumn days in Colorado are gorgeous. The red and golden hues of aspens and multi-colored spread of grasslands make for an artistic landscape of immense beauty. As someone whose work cycled around the school year, fall brought new ventures and, often, new acquaintances. As such, I find the season to be one of new beginnings even as the leaves fall and winter emerges.
I look forward to our readers’ responses to your questions and how the changing of one season gives way to the next.