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It's autumn time, and the living is better


I THINK IT'S safe now. We can pack away the last of the sleeveless shirts. The dehumidifier's not running any more, and the Oreos don't need to be stashed in Tupperware to keep them from getting soggy. The ivy-leafed geranium on the back porch has come back to life, now that the sun has stopped baking it to death.

Some people say summer unofficially ends on Labor Day.

I say that's the beginning of the end. Something in the air and the light changes then, for sure, but the Maryland summer always takes a long time to die.

Thank heavens, it's just about dead now.

I stopped at a farmer's market last week and stuck my face into a pot of salmon-colored chrysanthemums, to see if they still worked their old magic. Closed my eyes, sucked in a big breath of mum scent, and sighed. Sure enough.

"Smells like first grade," I said, remembering the enormous bouquets my grandmother used to cut from her garden for me to give to my teacher. They were heavy, and it was hard juggling them on the bus with my plaid book bag and lunch box. I didn't want to mash them by lying them on the seat, so I rode all the way to school holding them upright, the smell of autumn in my face.

My husband, who probably thinks chrysanthemums bloom in May, rolls his eyes. I know what he's thinking: It's that time of year again. She's gonna start pumping me full of hot apple cider.

On our lunch break, I ask if he wants to stop at one of the farmer's markets along Ritchie Highway, maybe to buy a big pumpkin for the porch. He laughs and heads across the parking lot to Roy Rogers. He still refuses to put the Weber away for the winter.

Summer people are like that.

They never met a 90-degree day they didn't like, except, perhaps, at Christmas.

Summer people

Most of my colleagues are summer people. Every year, we don't get two weeks into winter before somebody writes an editorial pining for sno-balls, that Maryland summertime treat. I protested the last time this happened, and was politely told by my summer person editor that The Sun is against cold weather; "If you want to say something different," he said, "you'll have to do it in a column."

So be it.

I don't like snowballs. Every summer I give them a try, and every summer that cloying syrup makes me sick.

Summer has its good points: fireflies, fireworks, peach pies, a week at the beach. But basically, summer peaks on the Fourth of July and slides downhill from there. There's one day worthy of a Thomas Campion poem for every 10 that make you feel like a dirty rag. By the beginning of September, I'm sick of zucchini, exploding tomatoes and the ceaseless hum of a zillion insects. I want to need a blanket in bed at night.

Summer is nowhere near as glorious as it's cracked up to be, while autumn never seems to get the credit it deserves.

It gets a bad rap even from people who like apple pie and fall foliage because winter comes right after -- never mind that nine out of 10 Maryland winters are as tame as kittens. In literature, autumn's always personified as old, sad or gloomy.

"The leaves fall early this autumn," Ezra Pound wrote. "They hurt me."

"Dull, dark and soundless," Poe described it in "The Fall of the House of Usher," "when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens."

2& They must have been summer people.

Is a pumpkin sad?

Because as any fall lover will tell you, oppression is 98-degree heat glaring off a chalk-white mid-July sky, not the golden light you see now or next month's gray clouds skudding across the sky.

Is a pumpkin sad, I ask you? Is apple crisp depressing? Do little kids dressed up in cute Halloween costumes drag you down?

"You know," my summer husband told me the other night, "I think you're reading too much into this seasonal thing. Most people don't sniff some fall flower and find themselves transported back to childhood. You know what most people think of when they think of fall? Raking leaves. And when they think of winter, you know what they think of? Shoveling snow."

People are practical about the seasons, he said.

So, I said, I suppose you think of mowing grass when you think of summer?

Not really, he said. He thinks of picnics. Playing basketball. Of being carefree and young.

A summer person.

But I noticed he did eat that pumpkin pie I made the other day. So maybe there's hope for us yet.

Elise Armacost is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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