I’ve been in a funk for almost three years now. Why? Let’s see. Maybe it was the forced isolation and fear of getting sick (or worse) when the virus first reached our shores. Maybe it was the politicization of what this all meant during the 2020 elections. January 6th and its aftermath was a contributing factor. So is our tribal politics that places a premium on arguing instead of listening, where opinion has more merit than facts. There is also the issue of all this infecting our collective mood, creating an atmosphere where we have become increasingly angry, dismissive and less empathetic. Real hatred exists between segments of our society. Seriously, I can’t think of a single thing of consequence during this chapter of our history I’d consider normal. And when you listen or read about this stuff day after day after day over this span of time, it becomes ingrained.
I’ve always been a glass half-full guy, but my sense of hope and optimism was steadily eroding. Still, I forced things more in 2022 in an attempt to crawl out of this rut. I travelled out of state a few times, had more people over, circulated among friends more, and even went to a few sporting events. While enjoyable, these ventures didn’t generate any sustainable optimism about the future.
The life I once knew was gone. As a society, we had become so entrenched in being angry at and shouting each other down, who could foresee anything to be optimistic about? So, I gave myself a pep talk: stop moping, and stop expecting anything to change. You didn’t lose anyone close to the virus, and now we have vaccines that, if nothing else, protect us from dying. So, I said to myself, be grateful, pull your head out of your ass, and suck it up!
Still, that spark, or whatever it was I was looking for, was elusive, and I began to doubt that anything would ignite it. As it turns out, I was wrong. All it took was a New England October.
Weird, huh? But when I said that nothing has been normal about these last three years, that includes our four seasons.
Part of New England’s allure is our four distinct and seperate seasons, but these seasons have been anything but typical lately. I don’t think we have had more than two feet of snow fall during any of the last few winters, which is not how we roll in Connecticut, not that I’m complaining. It wouldn’t hurt my feelings at all if this is the new norm, provided we have something on the ground for Christmas.
The springs have been damp, cool and drearier than I remember. The summers have been hotter and more humid, which has been wonderful for the MS. Worst of all, our autumns, New England’s crown jewel, have sucked! I’m not an authority on the meteorological witch’s brew that is required to have a spectacular fall, but for the last few years the leaf colors have been muted and quickly turned brown before they withered and fell to the ground.
I’m not a leaf-peeper, and never gave two shits if the colors were great or not. At least I never thought I did. But Mother Nature has pulled out all the stops this year, and the results are both wonderful and oddly uplifting.
If you are born and raised in New England, you learn to take these kinds of things for granted. Part of the charm of living in this part of the country, aside from the fact that we don’t typically have to worry about hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, mudslides, drought, or wildfires, is the unique beauty associated with each season. Autumns are always a double-edged sword because as much as you might enjoy the scenery, the leaves eventually fall to the ground, need to be disposed of, and can be a weekly pain in the ass if you don’t enjoy yard work.
But this year? Maybe it’s because the colors are so spectacular, or maybe it’s because we haven’t had this kind of foliage in years and it feels like rediscovering something precious that was feared lost, but Mother Nature is putting on a show, and it’s as inspiring as it is breathtaking.
The picture that leads this post is my neighbor’s maple tree that I’ve been enjoying every day for a couple of weeks, and the others are samples of what you might see anywhere you travel within the state. When the sun shines directly on these trees, the colors come alive and are so vivid and bright you might need sunglasses if you stare at them too long. When sunset arrives, they appear to glow in oncoming dusk. Everywhere you turn, there is a kaleidoscope of color: vibrant shades of yellow, orange, gold, and red.
The neat thing is as the leaves turn, they become progressively more colorful and vibrant until they reach their peak. We are at the point where some trees are still peaking while most are beginning the downhill side of that peak. As as October bleeds into November, the colors will continue to mute, the leaves will wither, turn brown, fall off the limbs, and swirl around in the air like mini cyclones when a strong wind kicks up. By Thanksgiving, the limbs will be bare, and we will brace ourselves for the harshness of winter, but not care as much.
For whatever reason, this brief return to normalcy has created an optimism that has been missing. What had been lost was found. Silly, I know, but the lesson learned is things are never as bad as they appear, and that it’s foolish to assume that something that has been missing for awhile will never return.
We will still have a lot of shit to slog through, the midterms and the 2024 elections for one. It will take time before we are whole again and could conceivably get uglier depending on whatever election shenanigans that might come into play. But we will slog through it and come out intact on the other side, and all one has to do is look at the 1968 as a reference point.
I was still a young boy and was clueless about what was going on. But if I go back in time and place myself in that era as an adult, I would have thought that the divisions in our society that Vietnam created, the political assassinations, civil rights strife and burning cities meant that the world I knew was falling apart, and we were all doomed. It didn’t pan out that way, so I am holding on tight to my October ephiphany.
I just wish I had spring to look forward to instead of winter. Some things never change.