It’s undeniable that autumn is upon us. As I’m writing this, the sun is setting outside my window. Sunset has been earlier these past few weeks, and it’s only going to keep rolling back. At the other end of the spectrum, the sun has also been rising later and later.
You’d think that a nighthawk like me would really relish these longer nights, the extra hours of darkness.
I don’t. In fact, I hate the fall. Slowly, though, over the past few years, I’ve been learning to embrace it.
Autumn Nights Bring SAD Frights
When I was younger, I don’t think I noticed the cycle of the days all that much. Sure, I liked summer, but what kid doesn’t? No school!
Autumn–and September–always meant back to school. And back to school meant a kind of busyness, which I think helped to mask any sort of depressive feelings I might have been experiencing.
Once I graduated from university, though, I suddenly had nothing to do in the fall. My first year was rough, because I was still looking for work in my field and not at all sure where my life was going.
Even now, as much as I’m often very busy at work in the autumn months, I find the shorter days tough to deal with. I’m not sure if it’s a combination of that, the cooler weather, or the fact summer is over. Or maybe it’s dread that winter is coming.
Fall is also difficult because there are a lot of holidays focused on family. My family is pretty good; I’m definitely in a better boat than some people. But there was still this sort of pressure to have yourself figured out, to know where you were going, what you were doing.
You know, the inevitable “when are you gonna get a job?” or the “so, are you dating anyone right now?” kind of questions.
All that combines with the lack of light, a kind of yearning for summer days.
I Am Solar Powered
Summer is my absolute favorite season. I know a lot of people don’t like it, but I thrive in it. I love the heat and humidity. And I especially love the long hours of daylight.
There’s just something to be able to run outside in shorts and a tee in the middle of the night. Maybe it’s because I have to bundle up so much in the winter.
I also get much more done in the summer months. I’m almost manic; I’m far more productive. I always have been.
So when summer ends and fall comes on, my energy levels deplete. I can feel myself shutting down, little by little.
And I think one of the frustrations there is that our current society doesn’t give us the room to do that. There is no shutting down. You’re expected to keep on, keep on, through out the calendar.
So that’s always a challenge, to try and balance what I need and the expectations that life just keeps going at the same pace.
Memories of the Fall
Of course, I can’t say everything about fall is bad. The days are often still bright and clear. The pop of red, orange, and yellow as the leaves change color is something too. Imagine that against a cloud-swept blue sky. It’s hard to compare.
And of course there’s pumpkin everything. Pumpkin, in my opinion, might just be the saving grace of fall. Pies, muffins, soups–you can do whatever you want with pumpkin.
And then there’s Halloween, which has a sort of spooky atmosphere that’s almost magical. It’s hard to encapsulate that.
I have one memory–or perhaps a feeling–that seems to capture that energy, that magic–and indeed, the entirety of autumn for me.
When I was eight, I started watching Sailor Moon (yeah, the bad 90s dub). It was on before I had to go catch the bus, so I’d watch the daily episode, then head outside into the crisp, cool fall morning.
And there was something in the imagery–the crescent moon, the stars, the black cat Luna–that became so inextricably bound up in autumn for me. Whenever I think about Halloween and fall, the first thing that leaps to mind is a still frame from Sailor Moon.
Embracing That Magic
So, what are we to do in this kind of situation? I hate fall because it means summer is over. I hate it because it means winter is on it’s way.
The solution seems to be to embrace the positives of the season. Yes, the nights are longer, but that gives us more time to look at the stars. The leaves might fall off the trees, but that loans itself to the quiet hush of the spooky magic that seems to haunt October days.
Yes, I might still close my eyes and long for summer sunshine, for heat and humidity and blue skies. But I can also teach myself to yearn for the aspects of fall I find, well, more tolerable.
In looking to embrace fall, I can look for new traditions, seek out things to actually look forward to. Some people may mock those who look forward to pumpkin spice lattes. But for me, that’s something of a crutch–a signpost, an event that helps me navigate a season I find otherwise depressing.
I’ve also switched my baking habits. I love pumpkin so much, I would cook and bake with it whenever. Now, I only make pie, soup, or muffins when I can get a fresh pumpkin from the local farmers’ market.
That makes it special, a treat I can only have when this time of year rolls around. The same is true of bath bombs and Halloween-themed shows and decorations.
Learning to Appreciate the Slow Down
The other tack I’ve been trying to take is being gentler with myself. We live in a society that demands that we move at a break-neck pace, constantly. We’re sleep-deprived because we work 40 hours at one job, then another 20 at the side hustle. Then we try to stay fit, socialize, eat well, and maintain relationships.
It’s an impossible balancing act. There are reasons it’s designed that way–idle hands and all–but the truth is, human beings aren’t meant to work like that.
In fact, this go-go-go culture is very new to us, probably dating back to around the Industrial Revolution. Yes, you had people who were motivated workaholics. They burned the midnight oil; they were prolific writers and thinkers and they went through a lot of candles, I’m sure.
But there wasn’t a deadline. In fact, time as we understand it is a very modern concept as well. Clocks before the 1700s weren’t very precise. Technological advances led to a reconceptualization.
Then we got electricity and computers. We all moved to the city, away from the rhythms of rural farm life, away from the land. We all got jobs that just soldier on.
Making Space to Rest
If you look at our society that way, it suddenly makes sense why we’re all sleep-deprived. We’re constantly on. We don’t pay any attention to the rhythms of the year. We work 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, winter, summer, spring, fall.
If we’re lucky, we might get a few weeks of vacation. Many of us spend time off we have working on side hustles. Some of us (like yours truly) have passion projects. Others have two or three jobs and still struggle to make ends meet.
The point is, though, we don’t give ourselves time to rest. Most of us feel we can’t; that’s what this social structure does to us.
Our ancestors would have had more seasonal rhythms. Many of them were poor laborers or farm workers. You worked hard most of the year, and then you’d “rest” in the winter, when the harvest was done.
Why do you think we have such big festivals at the end of the year? It’s time to celebrate and make merry. It’s time to play because the hard work is done.
And we can look at animals as well. Take a bear for example. Bears hibernate. They literally go to sleep for months on end, instead of expending energy hunting and gathering when food is scarce.
Trees go into a hibernation mode. The changing of the leaves is triggered by light, not by temperature. In spring, as days get longer, the trees shoot out leaves and flowers to make food and reproduce. And as the days get shorter, they close up the chlorophyll shop and get ready to go back to sleep.
Do you know any factories that close down for weeks or months on end? What about shops?
So it seems only natural that we want to shut down, to slow down and rest when the days get shorter, when the temperatures fall.
I used to get frustrated and upset with SAD. Now, I try to see my falling energy levels as a signal that I need to slow down, to take it easier. That I need the space to rest–and to enjoy the things that make the season if not enjoyable, then tolerable for me.
Reflecting on the Fall
One of the conceits of the Zodiac series is that each book focuses on alien shifters “associated” with one of the 12 (or 13) signs of the zodiac. Obviously, Riding the Dragon breaks that a little bit, because Libra has almost nothing to do with dragons.
Leaving that aside, the other issue is that the zodiac signs are associated with certain times of the year. The zodiac switches from Virgo to Libra pretty much exactly with the autumnal equinox. Virgo is thus the last sign of summer, while Libra is the first sign of fall.
I also like to release books in line with the major season they embody. Hook, Line & Sinker doesn’t conform to that, in part because the book extends beyond the last of winter. The same is true of Riding the Dragon, which extends from the fall into the winter.
Nonetheless, a good deal of the book is set during the fall, and the autumn is important all around. The Draconid meteor shower is a minor one, but it usually happens around mid-October.
Of course, since Riding the Dragon takes place on a different planet, it’s not hard to start questioning the timing. Would there be a meteor shower originating from the area we associate with the constellation Draco in the autumn on this planet?
Possibly–even probably–not. The planet called Librae orbits one of the stars in what we call Libra, but we have to remember that we draw constellations on what looks like a flat, 2D surface.
Space is 3D. The stars in Draco or any other constellation are actually light years apart. So there’s a good chance that whatever we see from Earth wouldn’t even remotely resemble what would be seen from a planet in a faraway star system.
Still, it’s fun to imagine that, even with the vast differences, there might still be similarities. For example, what Cad and the other people living on Librae might call October or autumn corresponds to their astrological experience based on where they are around their star. But that could be the polar opposite to Earth’s seasons!
The Seasons Always Change
I might not like the fall and the winter, for any number of reasons. But the change of seasons is something I can’t stop. The cycle will continue, and as much as the dark and the cold will always come back, so too will the light.
And that perhaps speaks to Riding the Dragon more than anything else. There’s a sense of balance to it: you can’t have the light without the dark, and you can’t enjoy the heat of summer without knowing the cold of winter.
So we can’t stop it nor change it. All we can do is learn to accept it and try to make our peace with it. And in turn, we can learn to find the little things that buoy us, that bring us joy.
And we can learn to stop worrying and love the fall.