Summer has ended, and Fall is happening in full force here in midcoast Maine. When I arrived back from my cross-country drive only a couple of months ago, the days were long, the air was warm, the skies clear, and the hours were filled with swimming in ponds, camping beside rivers, fishing in t-shirts, shorts and sandals for bass from my canoe and for trout in tiny streams. And the hillsides and valleys were a million shades of green.
But in only a few weeks, the seasons have shifted. The trees up north have already peaked, and now the front wave of yellows and reds are hitting the midcoast region. Unless you have lived or visited here, no photos can adequately capture the beauty of a maple tree with its green leaves tipped in flaming red, standing next to a canary yellow birch tree, backlit from a low sun on a cool day. The swampland behind my cabin has turned from a warm green, to a pale brown, and now has streaks of red, brown, yellow and dusty gray. In only a few more months, all will be frozen solid, laying bare and waiting for the first snow….which will not come soon enough, and stay far too long.
Fall is the season I took a year off to be here for. Visiting Maine in the summers gives you a very false sense of place; seeing Maine in its best season, when all the sights…man-made and natural…are primed and performing at their most beautiful and giving. But once the Fall arrives, and the tourists recede back to the warm southern states, the locals give each other a knowing glance and tear down the sidewalk stalls, pack up the souvenir shops, shutter the seaside restaurants and start to prepare for another long, cold freeze.
But as much as I love Fall, I find the season after that the hardest. We have the usual ones…but there is another, long hard season that comes between Fall and Winter. It doesn’t have a name like the other ‘transition seasons’ like Mud Season (between winter and spring) or Indian Summer (between summer and fall), or Black Fly season (between spring and summer), but everyone knows about it. It is represented by shortening days, dropping temperatures, and the depression of a slow descent into a winter of unknown intensity. Once the leaves have fallen (or have been blown off), and the first permanent frost has settled in, then the days get shorter and shorter, the air get colder and colder, the trees stand frozen and bare…everything enters suspended animation awaiting the snow. And it just keeps getting barer and colder…so cold that you cannot believe how brittle the air is, and then some. And everyone takes on a hard pallor, like soldiers waiting for a dawn attack that promises to be brutal and unforgiving.
It is this season that drives me away. I have made my plans to return to Hong Kong in three weeks…long enough to see that season knock on the door, then to escape before it sinks its icy claws into me. Already, I feel my time here changing…instead of feeling like I’m here…I feel like I’m preparing to leave. Boxes are being moved back into my storage area, lists are being made for things to buy before the opportunity is lost, I’m looking at my warm clothes weighing if I can get through the next few weeks without having to buy a new jacket or sweater…friends are already not inviting me to events that will happen in a month or more, knowing that I’ll be gone. Conversations are no longer about the here, and now…but about ‘when is your flight?’ and ‘where to next?’ Attention spans have waned….people are more interested in nurturing their friendships with the people who will help them survive the upcoming winter than with someone who is about to abandon them. A few close friends have expressed their regret that I won’t be around to go skiing with, or to sit around a warm fire talking about the spring, and a few have discussed a mid-winter visit to Asia..but for the most part, the ground rush of my imminent departure has already begun.