Autumn isn’t so much a season here in the deep South as a blink, a held breath between our unbearably hot summers and what passes for winter.

This year has been different, though. We’ve had pleasant days and cool nights since September (granted, with a few summer-like days thrown in). By Wednesday, we’re in for our first shot of “arctic” air: a cold front is headed our way, promising to drop our night-time temps into the twenties. The maple tree in the photo below is now bare, and the ginkgo trees down the street are not quite at their peak, but in a day or two, they’ll drop their leaves in a chorus of yellow, all at once, a carpet on the ground.


The glorious season

I was already thinking about the change of seasons before I read the Wordsmith challenge. I love this time of year. It’s such a glorious season: the riot of color, a certain quality of light that renders everything sharper, the clean air. Autumn, for me, is almost one of those “thin places,” where the temporal meets the spiritual in an unexpected way. So why am I melancholy, I’m wondering.

And then: this memory

My mother died on an unseasonably chilly October night. She had been sick for three years, off and on, but the “terminal” aspect of her illness had lasted only a couple of weeks. I say only because I’d been told it could take months for the cancer, which had spread to her lungs, liver, and brain, to kill her. What awful weeks those were. Once I’d known her prognosis, I’d arranged to move her to a local hospital so I could more easily take care of her. All the doctors could do was try to alleviate her pain.

I remember asking a friend to bring my younger boys to visit her in the hospital. (My two older sons were already away at college.) I thought it might lift her spirits. I helped Mother “primp”: I brushed her hair, put on a little rouge and lipstick. She looked awful by that time, and there was no disguising it, but for the children, she wanted to try. By the time I was done, she was exhausted. The boys came, and the visit was awkward, silent. Mother tried, she really did. But her eyes already seemed to look far away at something or someone I couldn’t see.

A week later, my mother was dead. I sat with her in the last hours. One of the nurses told me to talk to her, to tell her it would be all right if she left me. And so I did. I told her it was okay to go, that my dad was waiting for her, that I would be all right. My sons, whom she loved dearly, would be all right. Her eyes, half-open, seemed to register nothing.

I had never been in the presence of death before. Oh, my maternal grandfather, had died in the house when I was ten, but that was different. This time, I was in the room. Up close. A friend came to wait with me. I’d been told it would happen soon. I sat there, listening to my mother’s breathing that had gone shallow now, such a relief after the past two days when every breath had been a terrible struggle. And then, suddenly, the absence of breath. Silence.

The nurse came and confirmed what I already knew. She and my friend left me alone with my mother for a few minutes. I was calm, struck only by how quiet it had been at the end, as though death was the most natural thing in the world, far less brutal that the slap on the bottom of a newborn.

After the paperwork was done, about midnight, I walked to my car, alone. Cold, a gorgeous full moon shining. I would have to tell my children. I would have calls to make, and arrangements, but all of it could wait until tomorrow. I did not cry. I had already done a lot of crying in the previous days and weeks. I breathed in the chilly air. The moon and the beautiful night seemed like signs: of life and joy in the midst of death and sadness. Of gain and loss. Of earth and heaven, joined.

So maybe that explains my love of this time of the year, even though it’s tinged with nostalgia. I love the passage of all the seasons, reminding me of the stages of life and how precious it all is.

What is your favorite season? How does it feed your memory and your stories or poems?

Changing Seasons

Actually, I think about the weather a lot. I’m a devotee of the Weather Channel, especially when storm fronts come rushing at us from the west or a hurricane spawns out in the Gulf.

I’d guess you don’t know much about Mississippi weather, though. Maybe you think we go barefoot year-round, sit on our verandas and watch the heat shimmer, and sip mint juleps.

Au Contraire

Allow me to enlighten you.

In central Mississippi where I live, we do have seasonal changes. Spring and fall are gorgeous, my favorite times of the year. Go 150 miles north, and you’ll see more distinct seasonal swings with much colder winters, even occasional snow. (That’s hill country, where I grew up.) Go south, and you’ll find balmy temps most of the year, although our coast can get pretty chilly. Sometimes it even snows farther south, when a warm, moist front out of the Gulf meets a cold front barreling down from the north. If they tangle just right, that scenario has been known to drop six to twelve inches of the white stuff south of here, and we don’t get a flake.

Where I live, snow is rare but not unheard of. We are just south of what I call “the snow line,” maybe fifty miles north. Sometimes I wish for a front to push a little farther south, but I’m careful of what I wish for. A few inches of snow shuts us down. We lose power. Looking befuddled, road crews throw gravel, sand, and salt on our bridges and overpasses. Schools close. Only essential personnel report for work. It’s for the best. You don’t want to be out on the streets with folks who don’t know how to drive in snow, and believe me, we don’t know how. We get so little practice.

Fear of Ice

A little snow, we deep Southerners can handle, as long as we can sit inside by the fire (we do have fireplaces), sip a little something, and watch it fall prettily outside our windows. No power outages, no digging out, just a day or so of hibernation and waking up to a glittery world when the sun comes out the next day. Most likely, by afternoon, the streets are passable, and it’s over.

But ice? Ice is terrifying. We have all these big old trees, you see. The pine trees bend until the ice gets so heavy they can’t take any more, and then they come down. Hardwood tree limbs snap like toothpicks. The smaller limbs go first, then the bigger ones, and if the frozen stuff piles on heavily enough, those big, hundred-year-old trees come down and wreak havoc.

I remember my first ice storm. I was about ten. We got the precip as sleet and freezing rain overnight, and as ice accumulated on trees and power lines, all night long I heard the crack and crash of limbs coming down. It didn’t take long for the power lines to go. By morning, it was snowing. Beautiful, but oh, so cold in our house. We were without power for at least a week. (For a related post, see Age Ten: The Hush of Ice and Death.)

Sunny and Mild

Lots of folks believe our winters are generally getting milder. I tend to agree. I doubt we had more than six weeks of cold weather here last winter. (FYI, cold here means highs in the forties or fifties, lows in the teens or twenties.) Today, the eighth of December, the high will be seventy-five. (Unless you live in south Florida, you are envious, I know.) But it won’t last. In a day or two or three, an Arctic front will make its way down, probably with heavy weather in front of it–thunderstorms and hail and wind and maybe even tornadoes–and we’ll hunker down until it passes. Once it does, the temperature will drop within minutes. Go to the grocery without a sweater, and by the time you come out, you’re shivering. It’ll be winter again.

That’s our weather roller coaster. And we haven’t even touched on the hundred-degree summers. Another time, maybe.

Mississippi weather? Picture a famous movie star (Southern). Mercurial. Sultry. Petulant. Gorgeous. Cold. Unpredictable. Stormy. Sizzling. Fickle. So think twice before you envy the Southern weather paradise!

Here’s a sample of what our seasons look like:

Photo Challenge: Renewal

The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge theme is renewal. The author of the post suggested we “think beyond the usual images (a sunrise, a birth).” Here’s what I found. Daylilies bloom in the summer. Maybe this photo suggests renewal because of the contrast: our trees are turning (finally) and the nights have gotten cold.

Lily bud in rain