Hands down, this is my favorite time of year. The crisp, fresh air, the overflowing farmer’s markets, all of my favorite smells culminating into one season and wafting through the perfectly chilly air: dried leaves, pumpkin pie, bonfire smoke. I love it all. If you are reading this and you live in an area where there is a true Fall, you will hopefully appreciate my dramatic and clichéd musings (even if you are rolling your eyes a little). But, all of these things aside, my absolute favorite Fall activity is camping. Most people think of the summer when they think camping, but for me it has always been a Fall tradition. The scenery is astounding, you can take a long hike without breaking a sweat, the night-time chill craves a good roaring fire, you don’t have to deal with the crowds of summer, and best of all: flannel shirts (they will thank you for putting them to their God-intended use— which is not, I’m sorry to say, sitting in local coffee shops while their bearded owners drink pour-over brews).
The Fall offers a beautiful and necessary chance for solitude after all of the weddings, graduation parties, and festivals which make summer the amazing whirlwind that it is. It creates rhythm, a pause, before the jovial Christmas season. I need such pauses. I need re-grouping at times. I need solitude in order to give full energy to the more lively seasons.
I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.
– Henry David Thoreau
At this moment, I write to you from my little table in the corner of my little apartment. The children are asleep and I am enjoying a beautiful, much needed cup of coffee. These moments of re-grouping are entirely essential to my well-being. This is a pumpkin-sitting moment, a “let me please just enjoy my coffee in silence” kind of moment.
And so, from this spot, let’s transport ourselves to one of these Fall camping trips from my childhood. Let’s go to Allegheny State Park. I’m guessing I’m around 12 years old. I’m brushing my teeth over the side of the cabin porch, and my dad is warning me that the minty smell of my toothpaste might attract animals. I probably roll my eyes. I definitely continue to brush my teeth over the side of the porch against my father’s better judgement.
It had been a peaceful week, complete with grilled cheese and tomato soup after long hikes at the beaver dam, climbing fun at Thunder Rocks, late night bon-fires, lazy days reading books. I never thought of it in terms of “re-grouping” or “stress-relief” at that age, and yet those moments come back with such clarity. The moments that were spent in intentional contemplation, in slow, low-tech existence, are the things that come back to me every Fall, the memories that stick.
And so, here I am, swishing and spitting over the edge of the porch, bickering with my dad about when and where and how to brush my teeth, when I look up and find myself face-to-snout with a bear. Before I know it, I am inside the cabin with the door slammed shut. Solitude. Peace. Safety. What happened next brought to my attention a horrible realization: I heard, over the adrenaline that beat through my blood, the quiet, un-alarming, steady voice of my father: “Clara. Please let me in.”
Yes, readers, I had locked my father out of the cabin when there was a bear outside, a lit cigar as his only defense. I hope that this is because I forgot he was out there. But it is possible that I could be, when put to the test, an extremely selfish and ungrateful individual. My dad accepted my profuse apologies when I let him in, and we both lived to tell the tale. I was grateful for his company that evening, and I like to think I learned a little lesson about looking beyond myself and being aware of those around me.
There are indeed times that require one to go inward, to be self-reflective, to be alone. And yet, for solitude to find its value, it must be broken. Solitude is most effective when it is short. Perhaps this is the reason that Fall is so wonderful— a compression of beauty, that lasts, in essence, from the moment the leaves turn orange, until they have all fallen, signifying that it is a season for change, and even in its meditative nature, it is not static.