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Fortunate Fall

The Guideposts senior editor shares why the Autumn season restores and renews us.

Summer ended this week and I was glad to see it go. Of course it’s not really over. Real autumn is weeks away and it’s still warm. But for the past few days the humidity departed and that’s what matters.

East coast humidity destroys all joy for me. I never knew it growing up in California. When Kate and I moved to New York four years ago in the middle of a sweltering, oppressive, leaden July, I mourned all summer long, wondering what on earth I had done moving to a place where the simple act of going outside feels like being encased in a greenhouse coffin.

Then came September and the first tantalizing crisp days. The sun brightened, as if stepping from behind a steamy window. The world looked as I remembered, clean, clear lines.

It’s that feeling of restoration I like best about fall. Here in the east I dread spring because it announces summer, that alien season taking from me the air and light I love, taking even my body, which endures the ensuing months in a permanent, hateful sweat.

Fall’s arrival plunges me into memory, down far enough to be home again. I’m talking about the body’s memory, the kind you experience when you smell cut grass and remember childhood baseball games, or you return to your old elementary school and the past momentarily overwhelms you.

I had that feeling the other morning coming out of the swimming pool. It was a little after seven, the sun just clearing the upper Manhattan skyline. The air, heavy and dead all summer long, smelled suddenly alive. The light was magnetic, isolating and enlarging everything it touched. Apartment windows across the Hudson gleamed like polished bronze.

It was California light and for a moment I was back there, time stopped. Or rather time was compressed, all times gathered in one time. I was in college, biking up the Berkeley hills watching fog creep across the San Francisco Bay. I was in high school driving bleary-eyed to rowing practice, sunlight just cresting the ridgeline of the San Gabriel Mountains. I was on the beach playing in sand, at the park in late afternoon, on the bluffs above tossing whitecaps, cresting a freeway interchange enclosed in the endless, silent, radiant grid of Los Angeles.

Do you have those moments of compressed time? Do seasons restore you, too? I take such moments as evidence for the essential mystery and unknowability of human life. There are depths within us we rarely access, riches we are content to ignore. And I think, if we don’t even know ourselves, how much less must we know the world around us.

Time, eternity, death, life. All words trying and failing to capture that mystery, to make sense of yearnings so powerful I think we ignore them because to admit them would invite paralysis. Regardless, the taste of fall leaves me wanting more. I get myself back and with it intimations of joys and realities larger than any self could imagine. Happy fall!

Jim Hinch is a senior editor at GUIDEPOSTS. Reach him at

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