The Simple Difference Between “Fall” and “Autumn”

According to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary, 2013) out of the first thirty definitions of the noun Fall, all but one revolves around an object(s) dropping from great heights including meteors, rocks, and morality.

But the noun Autumn describes the inflaming deciduous trees and shrubs whose normally green leaves are recalibrated into an expression of a Creative and their vow of Life as seasons whether it’s the combustion of golds, reds, oranges, yellows, pink, magenta, black, blue, and brown or our conquering obstacles encountered, we, like our planet’s oft overlooked foliage experience similar change: birth, growth, death, rejuvenation.

The beauty of Autumn goes far beyond walking through mounds of leaves crackling like damp wood in a fireplace, hot apple cider, sweaters, pies, early dawns and even earlier dusks. Like a prepaid Visa card which is reloaded, Autumn returns each year and reloads us with hope and the stalwart conviction that all of Life is a set of Seasons, each with its own distinguishing hallmark which does, strangely enough, echo each of us. 

Winter Recollection

images-5

Floating from heaven

(perhaps an angel’s first molt),
flakes-first-to-fall
scout the coldest
snowflake1of cold places where
snowflakes might make landfall
and swallow our feet like sand
at the ocean’s edge.

The first few dance like marionettes and,
like children, are delighted and distracted and
saddened, our cold clowns drafted
by the blizzard. More and more
and still more;
An avalanche of grated gray clouds
images-9
now spill like puzzle pieces
fashioning a flourishing,
custardly-creamy, alabastrine tapestry
imbued with tips of crystalline
facets that wink at Ol’ Sol
as his hammer struck
and cleaved and chiseled through miles
images-1of gray Merino wool.
Flakes-of-the-First-Order
avoid the silken strands of Alpaca wool to see its target:
the pudgy pink tongues
of pursuing schoolgirls and their
hope to catch a piece of heaven.

We Think Alike, Our Pets and Us

a-dogsnose-1
I have reason to believe that dogs aren’t aware of their size relative to the rest of the world. From the smallest breed to the largest there’s an obvious contradiction: the smaller breeds are the yappyist as though their bark implies, “C’monr! I’ll take y’all on! Me against 5 of you’s . . .” and their turf protection reminds me of the bully on the block. The larger breeds behave like Conscientious Objectors: demonstrating their reaction to conflict by staging a lay-in or sit-in. But I’ve determined that if you take a dog, remove its fur or hair, its legs, and its torso, a dog, fundamentally, is simply, a nose.

During one of our early autumnal walks, way past midafternoon’s march of the mothers to the elementary school followed by the pupil parade, two waning hours before dusk clocks in, we hit the abandoned sidewalk for Jenni’s thirty minutes of pure dogdom; when she’s not a pet, not part of the family, and not dependent on us. It’s her time to be a dog.

Often during our late afternoon, early autumnal walks we’re victims of late summer breeze’s giving way to staggering gusts which shake the trees like a determined child rattles his piggy bank. Green canopies disperse the shock while weaker, lower limbs lose grip. Cracking like brittle bones, the weakest branches drop like boat anchors, littering the ground with a menagerie of dissimilar limbs. Those few afternoons are beyond compare to play a rousing game of Stick!

IMG_0023

Stick! is a close cousin to fetch with one caveat: When I say Stick! Jenni’s got to find a stick to bring back to me! It’s a marvelous game, especially since I never taught her about sticks. Either Jenni understands English or I’ve picked up a bit of canine vocabulary.

On a particularly gloomy, chilly, and misty afternoon Jenni wished to play Stick! But the pickings were sparse until I located the perfect size stick for Jenni. However, it had threaded itself around three wrought iron spindles of a formidable fence. I bent down to pull the stick free from the fence and it didn’t budge. The harder I pulled the tighter it lodged itself into the fence. I paused for a moment to check on Jenni’s whereabouts, only to see that she had bitten down on the other end of the stick, and matching my determination, pulled even stronger when I successfully gained an inch on my end.

There’s Cold and then there’s Cold!

THERE’S COLD . . .

001-pondsCold cream, the cold shoulder, cold as ice, having a cold, Cold War, stone-cold dead, cold sores, knocked-out cold, cold (sexual disinterest), cold feet, cold turkey, cold water man (a Scot that doesn’t drink alcohol), cold cuts, cold storage, catch a cold, “…has a cold…” (politician, diplomat, or executive is fired), cold air, quit cold (die suddenly), cold fish, cold snap, cold as a cucumber, “blood runs cold” (profound apathy for others), cold blood, cold storage, cold cereal, cold sweat, cold front, cold comfort, “cold hands, warm heart” (lovey-dovey idiom), “cold, hard cash” (nothing’ but greenbacks003-coldone (US currency printed in green on one side starting in 1862; aka “Legal Tender”)), “feed a cold and starve a fever” (axiom first used in 1574 as a remedy for fever), “a cold one” (euphemism describing an ice-cold beer), “… she’s a cold one (or, cold tart)”, (disparaging expression used by a refuted suitor when describing a woman disinterested in his unmannerly advances), “cold as a witches bosom [sic]” (vague expression of “cold” in varying contexts), cold, hard facts (1. Empirical Data generally used in the sciences for unquestionable facts; 2. My mother’s off-handed remark whenever I 004-coldduck1was dumped by a girl (implying “. . . silly boy, you’ll never get a girl so face the facts . . .”)), cold case (police investigation which remains unsolvable after exhausting every lead), cold plate (recipes served cold), cold duck (originally invented in Detroit in 1937 and was based on a German legend. The recipe calls for one part Mosel wine, one part Rhine wine with one part of Champagne,002-coldshwr2 seasoned with lemons and balm mint.), knocked cold, leave out in the cold, out cold (unconscious, intoxicated, sound asleep), stop cold, take a cold shower (an often futile attempt to quell the hormones associated with lust). 

AND THEN THERE’S COLD . . .

004-below01“Cold enough for you?” I kept an eye on my thermometer all yesterday. The temperature remained steady at -13º F which coincidently is the precise temperature of ice cream. I’ve lived in the Northern Hemisphere all my life, so I’m very familiar with the winter season: days are shorter, sun remains low on the horizon, a cloudy and snowy day is likely to be warmer than a clear day (clouds capture heat and the sun’s too low on the horizon to radiate warmth added by clear skies which allows ground heat to rise upwards), all dogs love snow, we all wish for a “White Christmas.”

006-lifebelow0“If you don’t cover your ears and nose they’ll be the first to freeze, next will be your fingers and your toes,” At -13º F frostbite can begin immediately to susceptible parts of the body such as: tip or whole nose, ear lobes, fingers, and toes.  Common warning signs include: progressing numbness and a loss of sensitivity to touch. The affected area will also tingle or feel as if it is burning. As the condition worsens, the pain begins to fade or eventually disappear. Frostnip (which I experienced only yesterday on my right hand)) is a superficial freezing of the outer layer of the skin which turns white as blood circulation decreases, then stings, and becomes quite painful. Frostnip can occur during vigorous outdoor activity and you may not be aware of it until you stop exercising. 

001-sledding2“Come in from the cold!” was a chorus sung ritually during winter by my aunt that babysat for us. She knew what was coming when I refused to wear the childish, insulated, and nylon snow pants. So she kept vigil at the window which overlooked the school yard for that first warning sign of a child wearing cotton pants and sliding and falling into drifts of snow. I never noticed that my wet pants quickly yielded to the cold. Suddenly my bottom half was encased in ice which would stick to my legs. Every step home felt like pen knives were being poked into my legs, my bottom, and my feet. When I stepped into the house and started to undress my aunt hurried to stop me, then quickly placed me right in front of the heat register and turned up the heat. Then she handed me a cup of hot cocoa saying, “Drink that cocoa slowly because as those pants begin to melt, so will you. And honey, you ain’t felt anything that hurts like that!” Then over her shoulder as she walked away, “And tomorrow those snow pants won’t look so childish!”

001-girlwithdog1 “It’ll be a cold day in hell!” before I cross the street to schmooze. The other night I saw a leggy woman walking an equally leggy dog wearing a unitard (the long-legged dog was wearing it not the leggy walker, who’d resemble an Olympic swimmer languidly strolling down a snowy sidewalk on a blustery eve). I and my dog crossed the street beneath the guise of doggy introductions. After they’d had their bouts of butt-ery I finally asked the woman, “what on earth is your dog wearing?” Her Tsk, followed by the 180 degree hair toss followed by a voluminous, lung-filling sigh told me that our humorous repartee was chilly when her answer was dipped in the patronizing tone fondue, “Why, it’s a Unitard, of course; cold dogs are a reality. They’re all wearing them in Lincoln Park. But I suppose way up here in . . . in Roger’s Park . . . “ to which I interjected, “Lady, are you lost? This is Edgewater where, believe it or not, our dogs wear fur coats in winter and in summer we relish our hot dogs!”

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

adepressedgal

A few weeks ago I was incapable of simply managing daily routines such as bathing; I couldn’t process dual stimuli so if I was brushing my teeth and a faucet was turned on my attention went to the running water and my brushing slowed to a stop as though someone had killed the power. There was no conscious thought besides a gnawing, chewing darkness as though black velvet curtains had been suddenly drawn, shutting out the noonday sun. If I was present I was only present to the fact that I had, almost immediately fallen down a deep tunnel of which there was no light and no escape and no orientation. Or better, as though I had been swallowed by the immediate mud-slide of my life and in complete darkness and suffocation I simply held on to the one hope that maybe my prescription would act as a breathing tube offering me much needed oxygen as Nick, my psychiatrist and friends and family kept begging for me to hold on as help was on the way.

Two days ago I traveled north to Milwaukee to spend a couple of days with my older brother. We sat for nine hours the first day and six hours the next simply talking. Well, I talked and in a profound gesture of brotherhood generosity he listened interjecting sparingly opinions. It was an exhaasadguyusting experience met with fatigue, resistance and weeping, but I plowed through years of illumination, insights and epiphanies. It was the first time that I was able to track the experiences as they evolved much like tracking a lion or bear by using their footprints in a densely green forest. It was the first time that I was able to collect and sort, catch and dissect, speak and understand a monumental array of thoughts, failed expectations, compromises, distance and pain. My life for the past three years had been laid out before me like a table at Thanksgiving; every piece in its place awaiting their purpose.

Each day my energy has slowly begun to return and I grow stronger. I am still wobbly and use the assistance of a cane to walk; my gait is slow as I amble to the post-box or to the doctor; I often lean upon it when I tire or grab a hold of a fence or the arm of Nick.

But the most important, painful, and fool hardy admission was that I had erected my life cantilevered and precipitously atop a ravine simply adepressedman1for the view.  Then one evening a mud-slide swallowed me, my partner and his family, my career and others at work, my family and friends.   And now, standing at the base of change, the annihilation of my overlooked life, I now stand alone before this devastation, try to catch a glimpse of any familiar object in order to delay the inevitable: to once again try to salvage any pain my uncaged manic self inflicted

Smack Dab In The Middle Of Nowhere: Ah, Perfect!

Last weekend we packed practically half of our possessions (well, it sure felt that way) and went out-of-town for a two-day furlough from life’s daily grind.  We travelled south from Chicago and around the tail end of Lake Michigan to the eastern shore and small, polka-dot-like towns of Southwest Michigan known as Harbor Country.  These bucolic villages sprung to life during the mid-eighteen hundreds as either orchard or timber towns.  After Chicago (due west across Lake Michigan) was destroyed by fire, it was petitioning timber companies from Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan to deliver as much timber as fast as they could to rebuild Chicago.  A number of towns from this region answered the call.

(On a side note: Much of what is today Chicago’s Grant Park (to the south of our world-class Millennium Park (completed 4 years late (2004) and (hoo-boy) $325 million over-budget)) is built on debris from the fire.  Local officials opted to dump the relatively small amount of rubble into convenient Lake Michigan).

Southwestern Michigan saw Stevensville and Benton Harbor being settled as orchard towns and still retain prominence for their peaches, blueberries, and wine-grapes; Union Pier and Three Oaks hit their stride as major logging centers for Chicago’s restoration.  However, once the forests were dismembered Union Pier relied on a small but consistent tourist industry for Chicago residents while Three Oaks turned to agriculture (mainly fruit orchards).  Other small whistle-stops took hold along miles of unobstructed beaches and sand dunes as summer retreats.  Union Pier was affectionately known as the Catskills of the Midwest and, like many of its nearby towns enjoyed an annual easterly migration of Chicagoans desperately seeking the serenity of rural retreats less than ninety minutes from the city.

That is until the 1950’s when tourism began to wane as Chicagoans discovered their northerly neighbor, Wisconsin was flecked by inland lakes upon which one could raise simple three-season cottages, retirement retreats, even mansions.  And a mere seven-hour drive from Chicago is Wisconsin’s famous peninsula known as Door County.  Comprised of small towns and hamlets dotting both the eastern shore abutting Lake Michigan and the western shore adjoining Green Bay, it compares easily to Delaware’s Rehoboth Beach, Boston’s Martha’s Vineyard, and New York’s Fire Island.

For thirty years visual artists slowly discovered Southwestern Michigan’s slow pace, abundant properties, and speedy access to Chicago.  Over the years the area has become an established center of professional artists and independently owned road-side galleries offering a variegated degree of original art.  But then, in the mid-eighties, gentrification began its blight on these drowsy little towns as over-stressed and over-worked professionals sought a destination closer to home than Wisconsin’s offerings; a location with an aging and troubled economy; a place where you could buy a house, some land, and a night sky chock-full of stars for a fraction of what you’d pay in Illinois or Wisconsin.  And what made these Harbor Country towns so appealing?  Poor economic conditions: They looked and felt pretty much the way they did in the fifties when they’d been abandoned by Chicagoans the first time.

And so they came, prosperous couples with new families gobbled up properties like Romans marching across Europe.  The lakefront corridor was by far most desirable, especially the west (lake) side where modest stone bungalows with beach rights might fetch as much as seven figures.  The march continued both north toward Benton Harbor and west, leap-frogging the Red Arrow Highway, and slowing its pace at the eastern most fringe of Three Oaks.  By 2000 the narrow lanes, over-built lots, and idyllic, provincial, and simple character of these sleepy hometowns were scuttled by the import of urbanized behaviors and expectations.  Rather than fleeing the unyielding stress of city life for a long-weekend of birdsong, hammock-naps, and tall tales around a blazing fire, these transplants smuggled stress, brash voices, and booming stereos across state lines, and piled their city lives one-on-top-the-other, until their retreat disappeared, and their urban maladies doubled because now, not only were they experiencing the exact situations from which they fled, they were stuck in a tiny, Hicksville town, that oh m’god! couldn’t draw a shot of espresso, much less support a Starbuck’s!

Except for Frank’s.  Our longtime friend found a small, modest home built of cinder block overlooking a field of corn and backed-up against a steep ravine hidden by a dense thicket and impassable brambles.  It had been home to a family of four until the kids left and, luckily for Frank, so did the parents.  The small and unassuming house and garage was overcast by Hemlock and Juniper pines which splayed out in all directions like the bloom of a peacock’s tail.  Frank has an uncanny creative quirk: he can look at a common object and by deconstructing it in his mind, he imagines its parts which he then assembles into a completely new object.  In this bashful home which dutifully sheltered a self-effacing and respectable generation Frank saw a discreet refuge, and a distanced and disconnected property a few inland miles due west of the shore communities whose infrastructure narrowly supports the torrent of weekenders and the subsequent bottlenecks (roads, shops, restaurants).  Frank prudently purchased the property and created a master plan which included landscaping: pruning the pines, planting native fruit trees, installing a 2,500 gallon koi pond and waterfall, indigenous gardens, fire pit, and outdoor sculpture; upgrading the utilities in the house; and the most innovative change: repurposing the two-car garage into a modern three-bedroom guest house complete with a full kitchen, fireplace, vaulted ceilings and scores of windows which flood the rooms with sunlight and the achievement of privacy, serenity, and timelessness; the very qualities desperately sought by other Chicagoans who impulsively bought homes in the favored townships on the popular lanes only to discover that their little resort town had overdeveloped into the Lilliputian version of Chicago.

Sans, oh m’god! A half-caf double-foam skinny extra hot latte with three pumps of caramel!  Which, by-the-way, Frank concocts (simply espresso, sugar cube, and twist of lemon) using an original, aluminum-bodied, Bialetti stove-top espresso maker.

That Frank, he’s simply an innovator and an inspiration to everyone who’s ever really gotten out of the city and into the real Harbor Country, his retreat in the middle of nowhere, which is precisely where we urbanites yearn to be. 

Thanks, Frank.

Fall’s Early Mornings Are Still Night

I closed the door behind me and with it the toasty comfort and wafting aroma of brewing coffee.  Turning to Jenni who was dancing at the gate, fall’s early morning rigor prompted my quick donning of gloves.  Carefully stepping down the frosted front stairs I blew into the air looking for the smoking gun, the evidence I’d need to herald to the neighborhood (like Paul Revere) the Winter is coming!  The Winter is coming!  Though I studied the air carefully as though I was looking for fingerprints, nary a puff appeared; no telltale sign besides my goose-flesh.  Fall‘s playing cat and mouse with us, I told Jenni as I turned the gates lever and she bolted out like a favored gelding at a horse race.

We’d gotten an early start today, earlier than normal.  Jenni was up and out of bed at half past five and though I pleaded for patience, her answer was determined and direct: any limb (or part of limb) which had poked out during the night like Punxsutawney Phil or General Beauregard Lee was suddenly startled by a dogged lapping of tongue as though the targeted extremity was a popsicle on the hottest dog-days of summer.  Heavy-lidded doziness and a ten thousand duck down comforter can be very seductive, but what’s really arousing is the cold and wet dogma of the persuasive lap-ping dog which highlighted my dog-eat-dog world.

Jenni’s quite content cavorting in Fall’s early morning chills.  I’ve donned thin gloves but toughed it out and left the toque at home.  There’s a certain sadness during fall; like knowing the fireworks-like trees will soon be bones unable to produce shade; the morning chill creeps longer into the morning like the warned child near the cookie jar; leaves once an inferno, crackling like dry wood now slimy and slippery and stick together like wet newspaper.  Fall is falling; it’s falling leaves and falling temperatures and falling daylight. 

But to Jenni, there’s never been a better, brighter or brisk beginning.