I think I have fall envy.
That thought first occurred to me as September 21 was approaching and all of the local and chain coffee shops and microbreweries started touting their pumpkin donuts, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin beer, pumpkin everything.
Even my Facebook friends jumped on the pumpkin wagon, sharing photos of their steaming pumpkin creations and fall crafts, as well as their excitement for cooler weather, colorful leaves, and sweaters in earthy tones.
When that first day of autumn arrived, the temperature in South Florida was 87 degrees — hardly weather that called for turtlenecks and pumpkin lattes. If not for the commercials about pumpkin-stuff’s return, I wouldn’t have known it was fall at all. It could have been the Fourth of July for all I and the newest bunch of bananas knew.
Since arriving in South Florida, I’ve been on a quest to discover an actual change in seasons. While I’ve found some floral clues to denote spring, for the most part, as the joke goes, there are only two seasons here: hot and hotter, also known as summer and summer. This lack of seasons is a big reason why many people can’t imagine living in South Florida — seasonal change is important to them.
And I get that. I too reach a moment in the year when I want the heat to stop. I want Mother Nature to throw me a bone, or in this case, some cooler weather — a reminder that winter is coming. (In South Florida, winter is a good thing.)
Now, I’m wrestling with fall envy and wondering — just because I and so many others live in South Florida, does that mean we don’t have a fall? In this part of the country, is fall a season or simply a season of mind? And if there is a fall, how will I know when it arrives?
Surely, I thought, there must be a seasonal sign letting me know the planet has moved into a whole new realm. Native tribes and Caribbean peoples, I figure, must have been able to mark their calendars with something to indicate when it was better to plant this crop or that. I asked a co-worker from Jamaica about this. After giving it some thought, she shook her head and said, “No. It’s always one long season. We never made a big deal about fall.”
Never made a big deal about fall? When I lived in New York, I made a big deal about fall. It meant cleaning the garden, prepping for winter, and enjoying the cornucopia of fall delights.
I’m glad to have this blog so I can look back at photos of autumns past, some of which I’ve thrown into this post. Leaves don’t really change much here, although the frangipani leaves are looking a little tired and worn and brown. These will eventually drop off. I won’t need to rake them, though. I‘ll be able to pick them up like scattered playing cards.
Retailers — especially the national ones — don’t help much. If autumn is a drug, they are the pushers and their commercials have to sell fall to the greatest number of consumers, most of whom live in zones where leaves change color, where temperatures cool, where warm pumpkin drinks make sense.
In South Florida, it seems as if they’re trying to create an illusion that South Florida is part of New England. Store windows, filled with fake fallen leaves and mannequins draped in scarves and sweaters, are autumnal temptations for shoppers in shorts and sandals.
Nurseries, as well, push classic fall with racks and tables filled with mums, dried cornstalks, and, of course, pumpkins. (For the record, mums will not last in South Florida, unless kept as a houseplant or in the shade; cornstalks smell terrible when wet, as often happens after a rainstorm here; and pumpkins become a rotting pile of orange mush because of the heat. Autumn supplements should be discarded accordingly.)
At the moment, it hardly feels like autumn. The weather alert today proclaimed: “The calendar says November, but it’s going to feel like summer.” In other words, if I wanted to feel fall, I’d have to step inside and lower the air conditioning.
Looking around my own garden, I search for signs that we are now well beyond the autumnal equinox. The crotons in the front yard have all the markings of fall color, but they always look like that. Their colorful leaves have enough colors appropriate for any season, but it’s because of fall that northern nurseries have them available for the autumn displays of northern gardeners. Sadly, the plant will die with the first frost up there.
I also noticed the copperleaf, which comes in a variety of colors, changing color. I have “Louisiana Red,” and the bronze tint of summer is becoming variegated red, which I guess can be a kind of marker for the season. The shrimp plant in full bloom in front of it, though, is a giveaway that autumn is still summer.
By accident, I discovered the moment when the calendar, the weather, and the feel of fall all come together — and I had to look no further than the local news and the giddiness of the forecasters because of the season’s first cold front.
Here, “cold” is a relative term. It doesn’t involve frost or snow, just cooler temperatures and a great decrease in humidity. When a cold front makes it all the way down the Florida peninsula, it’s news.
That happened just recently — and Joe and I welcomed the cold front with delight. The front moved in while we were sleeping, like Santa Claus. In the morning, I stepped outside to feel the chill — 60 degrees! We opened windows to enjoy the breeze and lower humidity; at dinner, we made meals to warm us; at night, we wore sweatshirts for our walk and stopped at Dunkin Donuts for hot pumpkin something; at bedtime, we used a blanket. Daytime was like a northern spring; nighttime was like a northern daytime in the fall.
Our fall lasted two days and two nights, and then summer returned — but more cold fronts will come. None of them, though, will be as special as the first fall. It was the bone I needed from Mother Nature. It was the feel of fall I craved.