Fall has come, this year a mess: sunny days, then drenching rain, then grey days of hugging clouds and fog. The season is confused. Got an early summer, grouse mossback locals. Serves us right we get an early fall.
Not having a television cues me in to the signs and moods Thoreau would have known, or old paleolithic hunters peering down the long light. Were they grim about the future, fearful of winter in ways we have forgotten? Free of mass media jabber, nature’s pulse and wane is as evident as it is subtle. Something about light.
Light has been changing for weeks now, far faster than in my lower-latitude childhood. Driving home one evening the football crowds are in the right time, which is more important than being in the right place. Afternoon practice requires light long across the field, everything brushed orange and light with the promise of cool.
Texas has had armies of kids getting heatstroke for the past month, slamming into things while being shouted at by coaches. Fervency pumps itself into rage, with or without boosting chemicals. Testosterone fused with heat in the presence of enraged silverbacks turns everything to madness. (For a working theory of Texas socio-dynamics, it’s as good as any.) Here in the high forties latitudes, football is different: not slower or less intense, but less a sense that this is the pinnacle of male existence, that a hard hit defines worth. On this south Seattle field they are working but not for their lives. There are kids that dare to look as bored as the cheerleaders.
Animals other than primates bow to those older, but to see the little boys overwhelmed by their armor doing pushups for kids who can be no older than middle school stirs…camaraderie? faith in humanity? rolling eyes that kids are teaching kids anything? Kids are always learning. Learning to teach is a critical skill, even if it’s pushups.
Cheerleaders look more than bored. White cheerleaders have what I now realize is a fretful doubt, like an actor’s public insecurity and desire to be praised. White cheerleaders invert their insecurity into haughtiness and upturned noses; a defense as good as any, I guess. These cheerleaders look more sanguine. They cheer and the noise is heard, or it isn’t. It makes a difference, or it doesn’t. They aren’t worried about it, and that seems healthy to me.
Daily for weeks the kids are out there, older brothers in twenty-year-old sedans and tired moms in minivans slouching in the driver’s seat, eyes half-closed while the kids run and coaches shout. Other women walk in slinky dresses down the middle of the street, saying things about how hard their kids work, or did you hear, no I didn’t, yes girl. The abandoned, barely-maintained athletic field is alive with people and motion, suddenly important, everything shared. One row of houses over where I live, it’s invisible. How strange it is how contained things are.
This is the pond at work. Visible from one corner of the building, it’s progressed through the year from a grey waste to fecund green summer atoll. Birds and dragonflies have flitted through the lilies so thick frogs had to work to find water; egrets and herons stand watch at the edges, and ducks splash down the center lengths, squawking and arguing. For the past weeks workers in orange vests cleared the lilies, weighing down pickup trucks with piles of them, then buzzing down every stalk and flower to regulation carpet height. It’s brown and desiccated now, smelling of hay and dirt. The smells of summer packing its things, autumn sitting on the bed, patient, smiling a half-lidded smile.
Back inside, down corridors across from the elevators, offices are empty. Summer had them full of interns, kids that were nothing like me, or so I think. One short girl, brown-eyed and on top of things, who had something to do with marketing; a lanky, uncoordinated gay kid who put together a Yelp app; a black kid in sunglasses who wore heavy tan boots every day; Asian girls with long black hair. Starting the job in January these offices were empty, great for answering quick phone calls. By mid-May they were labeled as off-limits, gradually filled with keyboards and monitors. The kids showed up soon after, bent over their computers, headphones on.
The gay kid was likable and seemed innocent of all fear or anxiety. Oh, yeah, oops, I’ll fix that, he’d say at meetings. He asked me a few questions and I think I helped him, but I was never sure, given his quick deference and assurance that he’d figure it out. I think he did. He was only a sophomore at Carnegie Mellon, which amazed me. I would never have thought myself capable of an internship so early into school. Yet here he was, unflappable.
Their last Friday I stopped in to wish him well, but his things were gone. Oh, he already left, the girl who shared the space said. I remembered a job I had in 1992, just after graduating college. On my last day I gave my address to a guy I spent lunch talking to. Look, it’s not like I’m gonna write you or anything. I wrote him, once. He was right. In the now, I wonder what this kid will remember, or what he’s already forgotten. So it goes.
Weekends allow the brightest light, the time to sense a presence for it to pass. The sky is alive with fall, the fields beneath ready to have their summer taken down, dried, put away.
The electric noise distracts us, but the truth is we moderns come from here. The big game gone, the old tribes started planting because it was the one way not to starve. Ten thousand years later, we have the gift of hierarchy and celiac, of kids in cubes entranced by dancing lights. We have the dancing lights because the food that sustains us let us stay in one place long enough to develop writing, schools, fancy-pants technology. That it makes us sick has only recently been realized. Did the kids in the cubes realize this, have it pointed out in some humanities overview? I have observed the adept are often resistant to the broadest learning.
I don’t knock it. The hand that feeds me comes from a field, where the real work has always been done. People whose names we will never know learned to read the skies, bring in the harvest, get a little leg up some years, wiped out others. They are the reason we have music and culture, a history, a way to ask questions. Fall is a payoff for hard work, thoughtful risk, taking time to stand in the shade. We welcome cool because we have faced the heat, and can embrace the next change.