I love fall because of the ache.
You know what I mean?
That deep, sweet upswell of nostalgia that comes with the dropping leaves is such an emotional push-pull of happiness tinged with sadness.
You know how there are the four flavors (sweet, salty, sour, bitter), and then there’s that extra one? It’s called umami. It’s that dark, rich, undertone of taste. You know it when you have it. Bacon, soy sauce, truffle mushrooms.
I’m declaring fall the umami season. It’s layered and complex. Spring and summer are happy! Bright! Literally, they are sunny (and god help the people with reverse S.A.D. which I sometimes wonder if I have. I’m not a fan of summer). Winter is bleak, and we need time for that, too.
But fall is both. It’s happy and sad. It looks ahead (new school year! getting older!) and it looks back at the same time. This year is winding to its close. For so many, this year has been so much worse than any of the years before. This fall will ache harder, more deeply.
It’s umami. It’s rich and deep. It’s compost turned into black earth. It’s fires, lit indoors for warmth instead of wildfires running the hills.
If light has a scent to me, it’s this: the smell of sycamore leaves dropping onto dusty ground in yellow sunshine. I have a million favorite scents, but this one might be in the top five, right up there with beach bonfire smoke, mothballs, wet wool, and cedar. (Oooh! All of those are umami, I think.)
This is my first fall as a full-time writer.
I have wanted this my whole life.
Every day I write at Mills College, lately at the library. I sit on the second floor and I open the window at my favorite carrel, and I set my apple carefully next to my coffee mug and my water bottle. (Basically, I’m Frances with her salt shaker.)
Today, as I walked on campus, I caught that scent, the dry sycamore leaves in sunshine one.
My heart nearly lifted right out of my chest.
This is what I’ve wanted.
I’ve got it.
I’m enough of a Buddhist to know I won’t keep it. Everything changes. Right now, this is my life. I am happy. Someday this won’t be my life. That makes me wistful, nostalgic for the very moment I’m standing in.
Fall is rich, and deep. Excitement and sadness. The light falls earlier, and we prepare to cocoon ourselves in our houses for winter.
But right now we’re outside, scuffing through the leaves, realizing that the sound of a leaf’s crunch remains the same, no matter how young or old we are—that sharp, satisfying KRICSHHH. We break something with our foot that hurts no one. We contribute to the leaf returning to dust.
The ache feels good, like a sore, used muscle.
It feels right, rich, and deep.
Happy first day of fall to you, my friends.
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