I have been enjoying the changing of the seasons over the past couple of weeks in New Jersey. Autumn is my favorite time of the year, a preference that has intensified after not having experienced the fall in well over a decade. While living abroad, I’ve grown accustomed to climates that are defined by two seasons – rains and dries. In Sierra Leone, the rains were a deluge, resulting in floods and mudslides of a biblical scale. In Kenya, the rains were sporadic and less predictable. Though they felt constant in a not-so-distant collective memory, they now behave like a fickle diva. They’ll show up if they want, on their terms, thank you very much.
I love the cooling of the air and how the leaves change – from those vibrant summertime greens to crisp apple reds to sunshine golds that brighten the land and soul. When I was little, I could stay outside all day, blanketing myself with the colors and air. We used to have a trampoline that I’d jump on until my back felt sore, and I would pretend like I was Goku or Android 18 from Dragon Ball Z. Autumn was the best time for doing this.
Yet fall always felt like the one season that came and went too soon. It passed by much more quickly than winter, which had the habit of lingering about longer than anyone would like. Numb fingers, cold sores, and graying snow mounds, no thank you! The spring can also drag, with its dampness, mushy grass, and invisible clouds of pollen and allergens that turn one’s nose and eyes into the cruelest of enemies. Summer always felt long and full. As a kid, I wanted that season to last longer too, but it at least felt like a season. Autumn, on the other hand, always snuck in and out surreptitiously. It’s like a friend who doesn’t say goodbye before leaving a party. “See you later, suckers,” it seems to say, snickering. “I’m out.”
And, as is expected, the leaves fall…and fall…and fall. I watch my poor father blow them each day, committing to the Sisyphean struggle of clearing those remnants of arboreal life, only to find a new layer of them scattered across the yard the next morning.
I have used my time back in New Jersey to explore the state while it is at its most beautiful. I’ve gone to a few national parks, including High Point National Park, which offers a tri-state view of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. I was under the impression that I had never been to this peak of Jersey elevation, though evidently I was here with my grandparents in 1987, when I was just under three years of age. The photo below was taken with my grandmother’s Kodak.
Fast forward thirty-six years to 2023. My grandparents are gone, but I still carry them in my heart and memory. I now have a niece who was the age I was in that photo, plus other nephews to care for when I am summoned for uncle duties. My parents are still here, thankfully, though my father didn’t make it up the hill for the view due to a bad knee. In 1987, he was drop-kicking incredibly large men in speedos.
Today, I had a photoshoot with my book, because I enjoy taking pictures of it in different locations, the way a parent might with their human children. I carefully arrange it on rocky surfaces, telling it what I want it to do and chastising it whenever it tips over. All the while, I flit around until I find the most jarring angles and spectacular casting of shadows. These will look great on Instagram, I think.
I came to High Point with my parents to see the leaves, but we missed them at their brightest. Now, more branches than colors are visible, which is fine. We weren’t fast enough to catch you this time, Fall, my mercurial friend. Plus, I know the deciduous trees are preparing for a cold, harsh winter. Their concern is not to entertain me with their beauty, but to conserve energy and moisture and not get blown away by wintertime storms and gales. I don’t envy them for this torturous annual task, but I respect them for it. Their newfound nakedness is a reminder that another cycle of life and color has come to its close.
My days in New Jersey are numbered. Soon I’ll head to Texas, Ireland, and Nepal. I’m excited to be bringing Deficient to new locations and sharing the book with wider audiences. But I’ll miss these days too, of being close to a very gracious family and old friends and getting to feel the seasons I experienced when I was young.
There are things I won’t miss, of course. My father shouting his cameos when I’m trying to write a new book chapter.
“THIS IS TITO SANTANA…AND I’M SENDING THIS MESSAGE TO YOU, MY FRIEND!”
The theme song of The Price is Right blaring in the background. Once heard, it never escapes the mind.
Televisions on in multiple rooms, blasting a news cycle that makes me want to fling myself over the edge of a cliff. (“Ceasefire, now!” I’ll echo).
My mother knocking on my door and telling me to hang up when I’m on Zoom calls for work. “Tell them dinner is ready,” she says.
This time back home is a blip on the radar. Five minutes in the grand scheme of life. It can be challenging, but it is also fulfilling. It will come and go, like the fall, that sneaky, fleeting season. And I know I will yearn for it when it does, long after all the leaves have fallen.