Ugly & Beautiful

All Hail the Pumpkin Spice Latte (And Other Thoughts About Fall)

Last fall with my little pumpkin.
Last fall with my little pumpkin.

The fall solstice doesn’t happen until September 23rd, but as far as I’m concerned, autumn is here. Labor Day has passed (September 1st marked the start of meteorological autumn) and here in the suburbs of Seattle, it’s a damp 62 degrees. Starbucks has yet again rolled out the Pumpkin Spice Latte, and the pumpkin-spice-loving world has rejoiced. I’m sure some of you are sad and cold, while others are saying, What? Fall? It’s still 92 degrees here. But I’m not hiding under a blanket or sunning on a beach. I chose the Pacific Northwest for a reason. In some regions it’s perpetually summer. In others, winter lasts nine months. In the Pacific Northwest, we get a gorgeous, lengthy fall.

Fall is my favorite season. I could moon about it all day. Rainstorms, falling leaves, my birthday, pumpkin patches, cinnamon, sweaters, firewood, chili, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Charlie Brown specials about pumpkins and pilgrims, turkey, cranberries, raking, hot tea. Oktoberfest. If you go by the solstices, then technically, most of the Christmas season is part of fall. My husband’s birthday, my mother’s birthday, my brother’s birthday: all fall. I love to put on a turtleneck and heat the house up with baking. I love to spend an afternoon knee-deep in leaves. I love the way the tip of my nose stays cold long after I come inside.

But I know, even here in the convergence zone, I am not always in glad company. People mourn the end of summer. I hear so much groaning about the gray skies and the rain. I wish I could convince everyone to love it–the whole world looks better when it’s overcast. Greens look greener, skin looks clearer. Sunshine is so harsh, I don’t know why the sun has so many worshippers. But it does. And when the sky clouds over, play dates get cancelled because the swings are wet. No one in Seattle seems to own an umbrella (I do–it’s meant for children and looks like an owl) but they send each other off by saying things like, “Stay dry!” Which is nice. I like to stay dry. I also like to get wet. I like to go on a walk in the rain (I have this cool plastic rain bubble that fits over my son’s stroller so he can come, too) and come back with water wicking up my pant legs, then soak my feet in a hot tub (one of my son’s favorite things, too).

If it’s always sunny, I don’t know how to appreciate being warm. I come from California, mostly the San Diego area, where it’s perpetually 72 degrees. Okay, that’s an exaggeration–during the day it can get down to about fifty (which is considered freezing) and up to the early hundreds in the summer (moreso lately than in the years I lived there). But generally, it’s warm. They’re under water restrictions right now because it never rains. Once, when I was about eighteen, there was a heavy rainstorm and I actually left the hotel desk where I was working to go outside and be rained on. I was like a parched plant.

It’s a very first-world thing to desire discomfort. My life has its problems, for sure, but I am always well-fed and hydrated (or have the option to be), sheltered, and generally safe. I have a large home with a warm, soft bed. I have insurance. I have a car and money to buy gas for it. I am extremely blessed. It’s people like me who choose to sleep in tents and poop in outhouses (or behind bushes) and call it a vacation. We do uncomfortable things for the experience of it: staying in hostels, sitting up all night on trains, eating bugs and snails. It helps us appreciate the things we have. This is sort of what my love of rain and gray skies is about.

I once got caught in a rainstorm, at the exact midpoint of a long, looping hike around a lake. My companions and I found some clean plastic bags in the bottom of a trash barrel (thank you, Escondido Parks & Rec trash crew, for you preparation!) and used them as makeshift ponchos. A couple of hours later, we arrived at the car, soaked but exhilarated. It had been miserable, but we had made it.

The other day, when I was feeling low, I wandered into a patch of woods near our house and sat in a clearing, thinking about running away. It was the first time I’d considered running into the woods since I was a kid, and my to my grown-up’s brain it was a lot bleaker prospect than I originally imagined. As a twenty-nine-year-old wife, mother, and cat-owner, I realize that I’m not going to find a cave where I can cuddle up with a family of friendly bears. I can’t make a house out of fern leaves, and if I did, I doubt it would be waterproof. I would not reenact My Side of the Mountain; I would get hypothermia. Just sitting on the ground within view of my house, I was starting to get cold and uncomfortable. I’d been stupid enough to go outside without shoes on and my socks were soaked. I had no sweater. I had no food or water or any method of starting a fire. Perhaps I would have been okay in July, but it’s September, and I need more than just my wits to survive.

So: I love fall because it sparks my sense of gratitude. I’m grateful for rain boots and butternut squash soup and all things pumpkin spice. I’m grateful for turtleneck sweaters and bathtubs and paperbacks. Apple cider. Wool. Electric lighting.

And so on.

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