Ohio in October is pretty enough to turn the Ivy League brown with envy and make California launch a recall of the calendar.
Leaves like shattered pieces of summer sunlight dapple the emerald lawns as if all the colors in the crayon box showed up to throw a going-away party for green.
This is what fall is supposed to look like in our memories - even if we grew up in Egypt. This is the postcard, the painting, the mental screensaver of a time that is almost more of an emotion than a matched set of months.
September, October, November, Nostalgia.
Autumn is Vivaldi played by Segovia on a classical guitar, each note rich and mellow. Every dwindling day feels as precious as gold coins that spin and sparkle high in the treetops.
The earth whispers its secrets of life and death in the musty, papery smell of fallen leaves. The forest beckons. Scarlet maples put on their lipstick, red as a bottled July sunrise.
Even a short walk around the block makes your feet itch to keep going on forever, over the horizon, beyond the tree lines and meadows, down farm lanes and country roads, just for the sake of simply walking under the crisp blue sky.
It's the season of irony and paradox.
At the same time families are scattered apart, blown by the fall winds of football, band, work and school, they are also knitted closer together, drawn nearer to each other as we mourn the passing of summer and celebrate our blessings.
The sound of a distant marching band. The exotic incense of a candle burning inside a pumpkin.
A subtle change in the light, as it thins out on sunny days. The lonesome color of the sky at dusk as leaves rattle in the wind like bleached bones in summer's cemetery. All these things are fall - but they are incomplete.
There's another ingredient we bring. When the color knob is turned up on the world around us, our contrast is increased, and our picture becomes more intense and vivid.
We suddenly notice the sharp details that were blurred in an August haze, because we know this October day won't last, and one morning we will climb shivering out of bed and find the white shroud of winter draped over the earth.
It's a time to take stock and stack our resources like split wood for the winter. It's a time to harvest the gifts that God has been giving us since the first thin chirps of spring.
Our rituals and customs of fall are yoked to an ancient sundial that grew close to the ground, following the rhythms of agriculture. But the cycles remain, woven into our lives, a tapestry of seasons that come and go and come again.
You can take people off the farms and seal us up like leftovers in high-rise office jars, but you can't take the farms out of the people.
So we stack up shocks of spindly corn, build Frankenstein scarecrows and drive to the feed store to haul home bales of straw for our pumpkins, squash and Indian corn.
We put away the shorts and drag out the flannel.
We pick the last of the tomatoes and peppers, and put on a kettle of soup instead of lighting up the grill.
And if we are wise and careful enough to just sit and admire the beauty all around us, we draw the perennial lesson from the season that returns like frost on roses:
Nothing lasts forever.
Make the most of it as if all of life is a rare October day.
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