Fall has always held a special, complicated place in the hearts of men. It inspired Keats to wax about "mists and mellow fruitfulness." Fall is the season of harvest moons, spectacular botanical decay and bittersweet anticipation of the long winter to come.
Well, we in post-agricultural, nondeciduous Arizona love our autumns, too, but for reasons that have less to do with rust-colored leaves and poetic ambivalence than pure, stupid relief. Anybody who's agonized through a triple-digit Valley summer knows the score - we're just glad to be done with the thing, not unlike an exhausted triathlete who stumbles across the finish line in sweat-soaked tube socks.
While Americans in colder and/or higher climes get all wistful during the fall season with their Indian summers and chestnut foraging, we emerge from our Freon cocoons like liberated butterflies. We hike. We bike. We tailgate and have bocce ball tournaments. We also sit on our lazy rear ends and watch a lot of TV, but doesn't that go without saying?
More to the point, I don't think we really experience that surge of autumnal mysticism that so moved our salt-of-the-earth forefathers. Take the harvest moon, for instance, defined as the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox. It got its name because it rises not long after the sun sets, providing a smooth segue way between daylight and moonlight that allowed farmers of yore an extra hour or so to bring in their crops during the early fall months.
If you were a food-growing person in the 15th century, you revered the harvest moon. It was like God or Odin or Allah or whoever giving you a little tip o' the cap. But what does it mean in our corporately farmed, genetically modified world? The answer: squawdoosh. We might as well call it commuter's moon or happy hour moon.
Same goes with the Indian summer. Back East, it's a terribly romantic concept - a brief respite of unseasonably warm weather following the season's first frost. As a longtime resident of Arizona by way of California, I'm fairly certain I wouldn't know an Indian summer if it slapped me in the face. For us Arizonans, Indian summer and life are pretty much indistinguishable. We had the Ice Age, and it's been an Indian summer ever since.
In fact, we do have our own analog of the Indian summer. It's that week of unseasonably cool weather in the spring or early summer following our first 100-degree day. Aren't those beautiful? Are you not grateful for the cool breeze? Do you not rue the long, hard summer to come?
Thankfully, that's a good six months off. We've got a winter to enjoy. And socks to wash.