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FALLING INTO AUTUMN

This is the only time of year that has two names, fall and autumn. I like the word "autumn" but never use it because it's a little florid for my prose style. It's for poets, not for essayists or journalists. "Autumn" is actually the correct word because "fall" is nothing more than a sort of nickname taken from one of the major events of the season: leaves fall from trees.

Fall has acquired a bad name because it's associated with the end of things. Flowers die, trees lose their leaves. My dictionary calls it, "The time of year between summer and winter. A period of maturity verging on decline." That's not a very positive definition. The dictionary would never disparage summer by calling it "The time of year between spring and fall."

Walter Houston didn't do this time of year any good, either, with his sad rendition of "September Song." In a haunting and mournful tone, he sang, "It's a long while from May to September, but the days grow short as you reach December. And the days dwindle down . . . to a precious few . . . September . . . November." It was enough to make a person in the fall of life commit suicide.

A lot of great poets of the past have used autumn to ring their death knells.

Robert Browning wrote:

"Autumn wins you best by this, its mute

Appeal to sympathy for its decay."

William Cullen Bryant was a lot of fun writing about it, too:

"The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year

Of wailing winds and naked woods and meadows brown and sear."

Like "autumn," "meadow" is a poet's word. No one I know goes into a meadow. They go into a field.

Shelley was toughest on fall:

"The warm sun is failing, the bleak wind is wailing

The bare boughs are sighing, the pale flowers dying

And the year

On the earth her deathbed, in a shroud of leaves dead,

Is lying."

Oh, come on, Percy Bysshe, things aren't that bad.

Let me here defend fall -- or autumn, if you prefer. Last Saturday, I was scuffing my way through a thick carpet of leaves in a wooded area of upstate New York, and I got thinking how much I loved this time of year. I not only love it, I'd be willing to bet that if anyone kept statistics, we'd find that more work gets done between Labor Day and Thanksgiving than during any other 80-some days of the year.

Fall is good for working because it's cool enough so you have to keep moving but not so cold you have to spend half your energy staying warm.

There are so many good things about fall.

Kids are back in school and out of our hair. We don't have to take them to Disney World.

Outdoor cooking is done and I don't have to fool around getting the fire started. The infernal hum of the air conditioners is silenced and, mercifully, the gentle heat seeps into the radiators and warms me in my old familiar chair as I read a book, the newspaper or watch television.

Reruns are over on television. And all's right with the world.

Tribune Media Services

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