Back in my old neighbourhood in Toledo, there was a house down the street from ours that had one tree in its front yard. I remember that tree because the leaves on its southern side would always start changing to more fall-like colours in the early weeks of summer, and then start falling off in August, while the north-facing side of the tree wouldn’t go through that transition until early October, with the rest of the trees in the area. I know next to nothing about botany, so I don’t know if this is a common phenomenon or not, but I haven’t noticed many other trees doing that, at least not to the same extreme that this tree did.
This is my third autumn in Wisconsin, and even though it’s only late September, there are already a number of trees near where I live that have changed colour and started losing their leaves. There’s still a lot of green around here, but there’s also a lot of yellow, and I’m just not used to seeing that before October. There’s definitely a little yellow in the trees around Toledo this time of year, but nowhere near the amount that there is here in driftless Wisconsin, and I’m still so attuned to the climate of Toledo (I did live there for forty-one years, after all) that seeing all this colour in the foliage here in September is throwing me off. It feels like something must have gone wrong to have this most visible transition to autumn taking place so quickly here.
I’ve dealt with seasonal depression this time of year for most of my life, but I don’t think the changing of seasons is the main culprit of it; the depression seemed to start when I was cut off from Antioch suddenly back in the nineties, which was a deeply traumatic event for me. Every year since then — even after all the students I knew at Antioch had long since graduated — I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that something deeply meaningful has been taken from me (which it was), and that a major \throughline of my life was cut off and never reattached. Even as I’ve come to appreciate the direction my life has taken since then, and even though I certainly enjoy a lot about the life I lead now, there’s still a pain I feel about what happened with Antioch that always gets stronger each and every autumn.
That being said, I don’t deny that the changing of the seasons affects me as well. I’m definitely a spring/summer child, and even though winter is the hardest season for me to get through (and boy howdy, has that become even more difficult with the colder temperatures here), at least winter is chronologically closer to spring than the early weeks of autumn are. Realizing that I’m in for months of colder and colder weather right now, as well as shorter and shorter days, isn’t the most comforting feeling even in the best of years, and this most definitely isn’t the best of years. As the view outside of my bedroom window has changed over the past couple of weeks — especially the angle I see when I’m journaling every morning — the weight of all the problems I’m facing right now just feels heavier. I haven’t seen any news stories yet about how the pandemic is amplifying seasonal depression (probably because most people who suffer from seasonal depression don’t get it quite this early), but I have to believe that we’ll be hearing a lot more about that in the weeks ahead.
As someone who works a lot in metaphor, it’s probably true that I do a lot of subconscious thinking about the “seasons of life” in relation to the planet’s seasons, but it’s not something I give much conscious thought to. That changed this past week, though, because shortly after I posted last week’s blog, I learned that my fiction-writing professor/undergraduate advisor from my time at the University of Toledo, Jane Bradley, had just passed away. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to deal with the death of an important professor from my student days — my poetry-writing professor from UT, Rane Arroyo, died ten years ago, and my music professor from Antioch, John Rinehart, passed away a year prior to that — and my relationship with Jane Bradley is too complicated to get into right now, but suffice it to say that I respected Jane Bradley, and I’m a better writer for having taken so many classes with her, and hearing of her passing just about floored me.
I can’t say that I was doing all that well before the news, because I’m certainly struggling right now with adapting to online teaching, and I remain deeply concerned about the pandemic and other current global issues, and my seasonal depression was already starting to kick in. This past week, though, has felt like a real meat-grinder. Even though I’ve been taking more time to practice self-care, I’ve been feeling more and more overwhelmed. I have good reason to feel overwhelmed, but that recognition doesn’t do much to help me deal with those feelings. I’m going on as best I can here, but these past seven months have been enough of a beast to start with, and I feel like I lost a lot of ground last week, and I may not even have time to recover from that before the election (and the chaos it’s likely to bring) in thirty-six days.
One of the last photos I took in Toledo was of the oak tree (at least I think it was an oak tree — again, I’m no good at botany) just outside my bedroom, just a couple of days after Mom passed away back in 2016. In a normal Toledo autumn, most trees have lost their leaves by the last days of October, but that year, for some reason, a lot of trees held onto their leaves until November, and the tree outside my house remained a brilliant shade of yellow, Mom’s favourite colour, for days after Mom’s passing. As I commented on the photo when I posted it to my Facebook, there is beauty even in death. I guess I’m just having a hard time seeing that beauty through all the horrors I’m living through right now.