This morning before dawn I was outside. Venus was on the eastern horizon, but above that the sky was clouded over and I saw no other stars. It rained last night and the night before, and finally some of the late summer heat and humidity have been washed out of the atmosphere. A thrill of anticipation ran through me.
In the past few years I have done a number of informal polls about the seasons. In one I simply asked people to name the four seasons. It’s funny (to me at least) how often people do not name them in order. I care little for which season you begin with, but it does seem like they should be named in order. Another is asking people what to call the season between summer and winter: most Americans say fall, but I very much prefer autumn.
But the one thing I like to ask people about the most is their favorite season. All four seasons have their fans, but spring and autumn have the most–and autumn is hands-down the favorite season. I get it, it’s probably my favorite too, ergo the aforementioned thrill of anticipation.
There is a certain feeling we get when autumn comes on. It’s a nostalgia, almost a deja vu, full of ill-defined longing and bittersweet reminiscence. Autumn takes us to the place where we can sense the cyclical nature of life on earth more strongly than any other season, when we can feel life drawing in to its essence. But here’s the funny thing: this feeling, as far as I can tell, is universal among human beings. We all feel it, we all share it. And yet I have had so many people try to articulate the autumn feeling to me, as if I would not understand, as if I did not feel it too. The sense that the autumn feeling is particular to an individual is almost as universal as the feeling itself.
The seasons surround us as thoroughly as the ground and sky and wind and trees. They are a part of every life. We believe, fervently in some cases, that our responses to them are personal, unique, and idiosyncratic. But it would be next to impossible to have a reaction to any season that is in any way unique. After all, there are billions of us, and only four seasons.
I don’t know if it adds to or detracts from my appreciation of autumn’s sentimental rush to know that every person around me feels the same. I do like knowing that I am part of the human pageant and share much with my fellow creatures in time and space. But I also like to consider myself uniquely sensitive. I know I won’t have figured this out before autumn gives way to winter, nor spring to summer, and then we start again.