It will soon be autumn again with all the beautiful colors that Western Pennsylvania has to offer.

Predictably, every autumn I do the same things. I collect colorful leaves, pressing them between sheets of wax paper flattened under Shakespeare and the world atlas. Acorns are gathered with the enthusiasm of a hoarding squirrel, displayed in a jumble. And since I first saw one during a Montana autumn, I seek the bright shine of a glowing harvest moon.

I also begin my love/hate relationship with the season. 

The rising sun wears a different glow in September. Not as hot as August, the sun does something to the green clinging to the trees, deepening the hue. That warmth draws me outside even as the air gets cooler. Evenings, I huddle on the deck, wrapping myself in the heaviest afghan my mother crocheted. It’s brown, rust, orange, and green and looks like the leaves my siblings and I frolicked in as children.

My husband opens the door, “Are you coming in sometime? It’s dark.”

I wave at the fairy lights adorning the gazebo and point at the Kindle in my lap. “I’m good. I’ll be in later.” He shuts the door and I listen to the uproar thousands of crickets are causing.

We Change Like the Seasons

As a child, summer was my favorite time of year. No school, but plenty of kids to play with on our dead-end country road. Mom packed us lunches in small brown paper bags. We carried them into the woods, feasting when we took breaks from whatever was our current favorite game. We caught crayfish in the creek, climbed “grape vines” woven in the oaks, and laid out forts with rocks. 

Summers were fluid, free from all but the most basic of chores. 

The heat of June, July, August seeped into us from dawn into deep dusk. We were rarely coerced inside—TV was reruns and we were busy kids. Without air conditioning, nights were spent flipping our bed pillows seeking a cool side. A major extravagance for our frugal parents, somehow we always had a pool. We frolicked in it from May, when we turned blue as soon as we got in, until September. We would beg Dad not to close it up, praying zealously for one more day of August heat. 

maples, oaks, elms
Pennsylvania autumn trees

Autumn From the Pacific to the Rockies

Living in Southern California for three years, the barely shifting of seasons didn’t bother me. While the natives in my office bundled up when the thermometer dropped to 68, I added a cardigan. “Aren’t you freezing?” They would ask. I would laugh and say, “I’m from Pennsylvania, remember?” 

From there I moved to the tiny town of Red Lodge, Montana. I learned that winter has different meanings to an easterner and a westerner. Autumn in Red Lodge is full of crisp, brisk air that holds onto summer sunshine. Aspens vary their shades of yellow as they prepare to drop leaves, blanketing the ground like Mother Nature litter.

Autumn colors of aspen trees in Montana
Red Lodge, Montana Aspen Trees

The Beartooth Mountains—the vast backdrop to the town of Red Lodge—show white peaks as high-altitude snows drift upon them. Fireplaces burn logs of cottonwoods, lodgepole, and ponderosa pines. The smells provide a welcome perfume as you take a deep breath and acknowledge: Winter is coming.

When it’s 61 and sunny …

I Wax Poetic

Raking Aspen leaves,
Birch-white trunks glimmer in the bright sunshine.
Jackie and I outside,
chattering like Pennsylvania chipmunks
transplanted to the quiet of a Montana afternoon.

Raking these leaves isn’t as colorful as the combination as growing up:
Maple, Elm, Oak, so many more.
Here there are horses stomping in the field,
Airedales ripping and tearing around us,
remnants of sixteen inches of early snow tucked under a shadowy tree.

Wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow,
We pile leaves in and move them deeper into the woods.
The sun is hot,
The air is still.
It is a perfect day.

I always want to tag a leaf and see if it blows back into the yard
where we eventually rake it again.
Or if it catches a wind current that sets it off on a journey
that sends it far, far away.
People are like sailing leaves …
sometimes we rebound back to the places we love,
sometimes we dash into the world, creating new places to call home.

Returning to Western Pennsylvania One Autumn

During my ten years in Montana, I came to love spring. After the siege of winter, even with continual sunshine, I wanted spring and budding trees and blooming mountain flowers.

Then I moved home. The rolling hills of Pittsburgh could be part of the Appalachia Mountains or not, depending on what you read. These hills climb and plunge, but they aren’t the majestic beasts of the Rockies. Here, I re-learned the impact humidity and cloudy days have on energy levels and moods. I glory in yard work, but know that I will melt as the day goes on—the heat rising. The anticipated joy? Frozen popsicles or chilled Pinot Grigio in an equally chilled glass. My reward for soggy clothes clinging to my sopping skin.

I still love spring and summer because I love being warm. But somewhere during these Pennsylvania years, I have come to anticipate the wonder of autumn. 

While I know that winter will bring a dead look to the yard, the bird feeder will attract colorful fliers. Deadheaded flowers and trimmed bushes are bland, once colorful leaves piled atop plants turn brown. The deck fairy lights move indoors, wrapped around staircases, the baker’s rack and sometimes randomly draped across a wall. My engineer husband shakes his head and laughs. I remind him, “I asked you when I moved in if you would allow me to add color to your life. You foolishly said yes.” He nods and lets the lights hang.

Winter will follow, but for now there is a beauty to autumn that I relish. Mornings, I’m eager to step outside, take a brisk walk, see the world change the colors of our trees. 

framed autumn leaves
The last leaves I picked from our parents’ yard.

Maybe This Autumn…

I may be deluded, but I sense that life will slow down this fall…. My world will relax to a pace where I can finish projects, try different things, enjoy a new adventure. I sigh and bundle deeper into my afghan, content to sit in the quiet of the night.

Do you have a favorite time of year?

Has it been the same season throughout your life or has it changed over the years?


Read: Human Hibernation: Why not?