A bite in the air

After the frivolous fun of summer, it feels good to get serious.
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Golden fall leaves on the groundBy Jerry Dennis

It’s always a surprise. You forget. 

One morning you awake and find cold hunkering in every corner of the house. You dress and step outside and, there, you remember now: A day of 40 degrees is altogether different than a day of 50. It’s a different species altogether. From the north comes the first sweater-and-jacket wind from Canada, pushing dark clouds heavy with freight. The sun breaks through, but it’s a brittle light with little warmth. Summer has slipped away almost without your noticing. The season is changing. There’ll be no stopping it now.

Cold weather reminds us how serious the world can be. How serious, harsh, and indifferent. Indifference is tough on us; it contradicts any lingering notions we might have about being the preeminent inhabitants of a benign universe. But a measure of seriousness is welcome, like being talked to as an adult when you were a child. After the frivolous fun of summer, it feels good to get serious about the coming winter.

iStock photo of golden maple leafIt’s serious business, after all. Gail teases me when I spend all afternoon moving firewood from the outside ricks to the garage and split a month’s worth of kindling besides. Firewood for us is not essential. Our house is heated with a modern and quite efficient furnace, and the fireplace provides mostly atmosphere and entertainment. But I’ve seen broken power lines and frozen pipes and an oil furnace that sputtered out during a storm, and I know the fireplace can be a line of defense. So I take my time stacking, mixing small pieces around the large ones, while leaving enough space for air flow, and enjoy feeling industrious and mildly heroic. 

Then I gather half a bushel of black walnuts from the yard and carry them to the basement in a cardboard box. Just in case.

Later I put up storm windows — or slide them down in their aluminum frames, for we have a system that’s easy to change. Then caulk and weather-stripping to seal up most of the drafts in our old house. 

Cold air has a flavor, like well-water with a hint of beechnut. It’s cleansing. It vitalizes the taste buds. Inhale it deeply and it burns through your nostrils to the back of your throat. You can feel its weight in your lungs. Step into it and it tightens the skin of your face and makes it more receptive, like a drumhead, to the touch of the breeze. Maybe you’ve forgotten how it feels, but the first cold wind of the season is a sure reminder. It’s a gentle slap on the face, waking you.

Ah, yes, you think, this is the real world. You were half asleep all summer, wandering through the dream season, but now it’s time to wake up, get up, get real. 

iStock Maple LeafThis is the best season in Michigan, these weeks of brisk air and Halloween colors, of sudden rain rattling against the windows and wet leaves plastered on the sidewalk. Every year it’s a surprise. The first good wind comes down from the north, and instantly you’re energized. 

You can’t wait to start stacking wood.

Award-winning author and new BLUE columnist Jerry Dennis lives in Traverse City.

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