Have you noticed it? Subtle changes are in the air. There’s a feeling of anticipation, excitement, and new beginnings. The sun is slanting a little differently now . . . casting longer shadows. Days are growing shorter, with more comfortable temperatures, evenings decidedly cooler. Summer is waning and quickly passing away. Autumn is upon us.
The general pace of living seems to have picked up from the “lazy days” of June and July. Most of the vacationers are home now and back to work. Bright yellow school buses can be seen again on the streets, for the children have returned to classes, proudly armed with new pencils, pristine notebooks, and high aspirations. “This fall is going to be the best one ever,” my young friend Sarah assured me recently. A determined third-grader who finds decimals and fractions a bit of a challenge, Sarah nonetheless vows she’ll master those concepts this year. “I’m going to be a math teacher when I grow up,” Sarah proclaims, “so I need to know this stuff.”
For many of us, once we reach Labor Day, the real “New Year” begins. Life gears up again in earnest. It seems an auspicious time, a time for making plans. Football practices and games, school programs, and band rehearsals begin to fill our weekly calendars. Fall festivals appear on the scene, and organizations are scheduling their first meetings of the season.
Retailers have put away their racks of beach towels, sunglasses, and flip-flops until next spring. In their places, we now find rows of potted chrysanthemums in yellows, bronzes, purples, and burgundys, as well as eye-catching displays of fall decorations, including bundled ears of variegated Indian corn and ornately-twisted garlands of burnt orange bittersweet. The coming season is clearly evident in the packages of candy corn and Halloween masks that already fill the store shelves.
Out and about, I see signs that Nature also realizes a shift is in the offing. Flocks of wild geese with their familiar honking cry are appearing in the clear blue sky, as they take flight southward. Fewer fireflies twinkle in the early evenings, and the presence of crickets is becoming more noticeable as their chirping sounds seem to grow louder.
The last of this year’s tomatoes, deep red, hang heavy on the vine. Slightly tougher in texture, these tomatoes also taste different now, not quite as flavorful as those relished a month or two ago. The luscious peaches and nectarines and tender ears of sweet corn – all pure delights of the summer – have also passed their prime. Hardy marigolds, in bright yellows and oranges, the famous late-bloomers of summer, are now in full flower in my garden. Faithful little plants, they’ll continue to flourish long after all the other posies have faded away.
Queen Anne’s lace, with its dainty, white-clustered blossoms, is everywhere along the roadsides, and will be so until first frost, lending an old-fashioned, Victorian charm to the scene. Milkweed pods will be opening soon, releasing countless seeds that float hither and yon through the air on their little feathery-white parachutes. Country fields of goldenrod will presently be in evidence as far as the eye can see, their deep saffron florets waving gently in the breeze. It won’t be long before we’re deeply immersed in those picture-postcard days of fall, when the green leaves of summer magically transform into blazing jewels of ruby red, glowing amber, shimmering wine, and brilliant yellow.
It’s harvest time. The black walnuts and hardy acorns are ripe and falling from the trees, to be retrieved and cached away by busy squirrels already planning for winter’s provisions. Apple orchards are laden with shiny, bright-colored fruit ready for the picking – as a crisp, crunchy treat or cool, refreshing cider. The zucchini and summer squash are at their peak and ready to store in the freezer. Months from now, when our beloved gardens are just a memory, these delectables from our carefully-cultivated patches of earth will evoke a reminiscent touch of summer when made into sauces, casseroles, breads, and cakes.
It’s harvest time for you and me, too, perhaps – time for taking stock, for evaluating the yield of our lives, so to speak. How fruitful have our days been? As we’ve tended to our crops of daily duties, responsibilities, and challenges, have we also tended to the people in our midst? They have crops of challenges, too. They could use the provision of a helping hand, a sowing of sunny thoughts, and a shower of encouraging words. Such caring acts can make a powerful difference for good. Indeed, the things we do for others throughout our lives often prove to be our greatest accomplishments.
What of true value have we reaped so far, and what significant offerings can we hope to glean in the time we have left? “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit . . .,” read the Scriptures (John 15:5). It is reassuring to know that, even in the autumn of our lives, with God’s help, we can still bring forth a veritable bounty of good deeds and kindnesses of lasting impact.
The unfolding of the fall season’s sights and sounds not only invigorates our senses, it also renews our spirits. Lofty goals are being set, and rightfully so. As my friend Sarah said, “This is going to be the best fall ever!”