Taking a Page From Autumn's Book

October 24, 2019
Tree with colorful falling leaves
Art by Kirsten Hemrich 

As October rolls into motion at UVA, I’m reminded of all the reasons my heart soars when the seasonal clock strikes fall. Yellow leaves on Rugby Road outline the branches they dare to escape from, and Lawn rooms stacked with firewood hint at wiggling toes against crackling fireplaces. The air tastes fresh like bus stop breaths on elementary school mornings and feels crisp like a farmer’s market apple. I’ve always been partial to fall. If the seasons were cups of porridge, I think it’s safe to say that even Goldilocks would be satisfied with autumn. Not too hot, not too cold, but just right—in all the best ways.

The home I grew up in is surrounded by woods, so autumn announced its arrival each year without any level of subtlety. Unabashedly, it painted the trees by number, coloring outside the lines as blots of loose leaves trickled into our yard. Walking home after school, I would stare up at the inky blue sky to watch leaves tumble down from frightful heights and land gently in a cradle of green. I spent countless hours catching the little trinkets with my younger brother. We sprinted up and down hills with our eyes locked on what seemed like falling stars, tallying up invented points for our efforts.

 

This semester, however, my mind is in a spiral of its own. Loose book pages and printed essays flutter around in an erratic corkscrew, out of time with any beat. I’m not sure where this tornado is taking me, but I can only hope it’s as good as Oz.

 

While fiery Virginia foliage and the ooey-gooey insides of a Jack-o-Lantern send my brain into a flurry of autumnal festivity, college obligations can distract me from the wonderful time of year. Rather than waking up and walking to get the mail in a fuzzy robe, I force myself awake with striking alarms and reminders of things to do. Walking like Dorothy down the Red Brick Roads of UVa, while endearing, feels a little different than tip-toeing barefoot across the chilly pavement of my driveway at home. Midterms and projects and papers, oh my! On chilly afternoons in my childhood, I would watch dried leaves swirl into spirals. The breeze would hold the hand of autumn and twirl it to the tune of the season’s song. This semester, however, my mind is in a spiral of its own. Loose book pages and printed essays flutter around in an erratic corkscrew, out of time with any beat. I’m not sure where this tornado is taking me, but I can only hope it’s as good as Oz.

Recently, I came across a video from October of 2010. In it, two of my brothers and I launched ourselves with running starts into what has to rank among the World’s Biggest Leaf Piles. I wore mismatched Converse sneakers and laughed as my dog hopped beside me, disappearing alongside us all. Sitting in my white-walled apartment among piles of books and piles of work, I longed to dive into a leaf pile instead, carefree in mismatching shoes. I wanted to swim in the leaves, to be surrounded by echoes of crunching and inundated by the scent of Earth.

I’ve realized that in many ways, my idea of fall is synonymous with nostalgia. I remember kindergarten days of romping around pumpkin patches and squealing at the yellow jackets chasing my sticky apple cider hands. I reminisce about driving home from high school with the windows down, blasting “All Too Well” by Taylor Swift and taking the long way just to admire the trees. Whether at age eight or eighteen, I’ve typically felt at ease even amid the shifting colors and dropping temperatures of autumn. Until college, this passage of time was a welcome one, representative of comforting moments ahead.

 

Autumn’s identity is entirely intertwined with shifting times. It shouts from the treetops the beauty of change, and colors mountains and valleys with proof that patience is rewarded.

 

Now, knee-deep in the first semester of my second year, questions of major, career, and life plans push at my unsure footing, daring me to topple over. Like the first frost of winter, these worries are unforgiving and leave little room for growth. What do I want to do for my career? What are my talents? This year, the season has crept up on me, ticking and tocking until the alarm clock is ringing and I’m late and I’m rushing and I don’t know where to go. Sure, I’m just a second year. I’ve heard the “You’ve got time”s and the “It’ll all be fine”s. These statements have merit, I tell myself. But as a kid, time moved in slow motion and my 2019 present felt light years away. When I thought of graduations and aspirations, the image of these futures was kaleidoscopic and pleasantly dreamy. Now, I walk the steps of the Rotunda and feel the solid stone against my feet. It’s real. It’s here. And I still don’t have a plan.

It’s helpful to remind myself that in many cases, fall can still be a time of welcome change. In no way am I ready to throw my hands up in the air and yell, “Come what may!” I’ve spent years striving for perfection, so it won’t be a simple switch. It’s unreasonable to expect my career path to formulate out of thin air, but I can at least allow myself to take a step back in hope. Autumn’s identity is entirely intertwined with shifting times. It shouts from the treetops the beauty of change, and colors mountains and valleys with proof that patience is rewarded. As I find my way to major selection and career choice, I’d be wise to take a page from the season’s book.

Walking to class, I can allow my gaze to follow the shifting paths of leaves who don’t know their direction and don’t mind (a lesson I know I could benefit from). My eyes are tickled by the sun popping between sections of barren branch, and I can smile at the idea that the roots I walk atop on Grounds thrive on the same nutrients as the tilting oak tree by my mailbox at home. In autumn, the past and present mingle together gracefully. As green blends to yellow and yellow to red, transitory orange leaves signify the season. I may not be able to click my heels and transport back to chilly mornings at home and limitless leaf piles, but I can try to step in time to this rhythm of change, twirling with autumn on whatever count feels right.

 

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