Oak Leaf

And the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses.” -Joni Mitchell

I may have recently spoken of the melancholy that settles over the world at the end of summer, but anyone who knows me also knows that the end-of-summer blues do not trouble me for too long. For autumn is a’coming! I can feel it in the evenings, smell it in the breeze, hear it in the trees. It is a magical time of year. It brings crisp air, fresh apples, spiced drinks, orange hues, and cozy feelings. Fall always puts a little spring in my step. As the lyric above from Ms. Mitchell captures perfectly, I relish the days of soft golden sunlight, deeper in color than the summer sun: marigold and amber. I think of it setting, piercing through the thinning trees, warming my cheeks just enough to counter the cool gusts of wind. Oh! What a magical time, indeed.

I cannot claim to be the only person in the world who loves this season. I can’t even pretend to think that I am the one who loves it best. But I can most assuredly say that I come alive in the fall.

You and I know (and love) pumpkin spiced breads, coffees, cookies, cream cheeses, caramels, doughnuts, and ales. We breathe deeply to take in cinnamon scents of baked apples from a kitchen window and smokey wisps of wood fires in the distance. We all share in these things and delight in their return each year.  But there is something more to this bewitching season, something that entwines itself in between each one of these delights. What is it?

Fall has always been more of a beginning for me than New Year’s Day has ever been. I’m sure that has a little something to do with the school year cycle that has prescribed the majority of my twenty-five years of life. With school days beginning in the fall, how could the season not hold a promise of new things? But in a more natural sense, it seemed to me to mark a period of renewal. That may seem counterintuitive, considering the harvest celebrates the end of a growing season and the Autumn heralds the hibernation of many plants and animals. Even humans, by and large, prepare for the long, gray winter ahead, sad to see the warm weather go. We stock our shelves, pull on our sweaters, shutter our windows, and huddle inside. We cling to each other and gather around the hearth. And how! For those very reasons, fall is not a time of sadness and melancholy. It is such a beautiful start for us humans.

We spend the first half of the year running around, making plans for fun and adventure. The summer comes and we go far and wide. Fall is what beckons us home. It is the voice that reaches us in far off lands, sunburnt and weary, ready for familiar people and places, tastes and smells. At home in the fall, we relax and regroup. We get back to the root of it all, the very beginning of it all – our own lives, the lives of our predecessors – and we are made humble. We begin again.

As a sophomore in college, I got my first tattoo. It was one that I had planned out in my head for some time, and when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped at it. The tattoo is of an oak leaf, done in black shaded outlines. It is simple and it is beautiful. Of course, it was chosen as a symbol of my affinity for the season. But it also stands for more. When asked by my Pop what the leaf symbolized, I told him ‘Home.’ For all that fall is (see: every trick and treat listed above), it is above all else a connection to home. Each fall holds the treasured memories of falls past….

I take a breath…

…they all come rushing back to me in an instant, and I smile.

The heart and soul of fall growing up was Granny’s apple pie. It was there at Thanksgiving. It was there the day after bringing a bushel of apples from the orchard. It was there after school with a cup of tea. It was there on your 21st birthday when you knew it would be better than any cake in the world.

I’ve tried my hand at apple pie many times in my life. I followed a recipe at age 10. And another recipe at age 12. I did away with the recipe at many other ages. Today, I follow the memories of how Granny made her pies: cutting the apples directly into the bottom crust already in the pie dish, sprinkling layers of cinnamon and sugar at just the right dusting intervals, chatting cheerfully as she stood at the counter. No rush, no stress. Perfection without even trying.

This weekend I made my first apple pie of the season, using these techniques and touches. And, by golly, it tastes almost as good as Granny’s. Almost. Almost will have to do.

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