Discover more from Girls on the Page
That September feeling
Must be the season of the shift
So much of September for me consists of a mental picture:
My childhood home, a red brick farmhouse, during the indistinguishable days between late August and September before school started. The leaves on the maple in the front yard were still green, though something about the tree was different; the suggestion of gold and auburn, nearly mirage, noticeable only if you stood beneath and craned your neck at a certain angle while the sun was catching. The sunflowers did their best to keep their spines straight, six feet tall, already fatigued from the weight of summer. Signs on the roadside changed from BERRIES FOR SALE to CORN MAZE AHEAD. Along the riverbank I watched the current, expecting the arrival of the salmon, but between blinks saw only phantoms. It was still too early and yet, too late. In the ditch, swathes of goldenrod replaced tiger lilies and sweet peas, signalling the shift.
A change occurs towards the end of August and beginning of September. It’s nearly imperceptible unless you’ve been waiting for it. Ever since childhood, I’ve associated August 31st with being the end. The end of a month of idyllic summer magic, time already for back-to-school. Gone are the washed out, faded denim coloured skies that appear on the hottest days of the year. Now they are blue as kindergarten paper, like in Miriam Waddington’s poem ‘Snowfences’. But before everything changes, there are several weeks of suspension.
This is early September. An in-between period.
…summer nights fade away without anyone’s noticing. One evening in August you have an errand outdoors, and all of a sudden it’s pitch-black. A great warm, dark silence surrounds the house. It is still summer, but the summer is no longer alive. It has come to a standstill; nothing withers, and fall is not ready to begin.
Not right away but little by little and incidentally, things begin to shift position in order to follow the progress of the seasons.
In the summer months we move about with a glorious, united languor. Summer is a season of spontaneity. As September nears, we move towards something else - August’s “impervious finale”, as poet Deborah Landau noted. Much like the first of January, the beginning of September arrives as a reset. A time of new beginnings, and yet, there are only three months left until the new year. Soon, the light will change and the days will shorten in a more noticeable way, though as Jansson pointed out, not just yet.
“September kissed the hills
and treetops like someone leaving
on a long trip who realizes only at the station
that he’s lost his keys.” 1
Marge Piercy also wrote of this subtle change in September Afternoon at Four O’Clock:
moments now resemble
sweet russet pear glowing
on the bough, peaches warm
from the afternoon sun, amber
and juicy, flesh that can
make you drunk.
And later in the poem,
There is a turn in things
that makes the heart catch.
We are ripening, all the hard
green grasping, the stony will
swelling to sweetness, the acid
and sugar in balance, the sun
stored as energy that is pleasure
and pleasure that is energy.
Acid and sugar in balance! I think of August as the sugar, September as the acid.
Jane Kenyon spoke of how the “fall sun passes through the wine” in her poem, September Garden Party. September sunlight is a string of thread nearing the end of its spool, slinking like the last of the honey, from one end of the jar to the other. The month has always felt like an undoing, a quiet spiral before the true rest of the year. Summertime was an adjournment, and now, after Labour Day, we return to a more conventional pace.
It is also a month of observation, as colours start to deepen and temperatures drop. But the transition has not yet occurred. It’s Labour Day and in Toronto we’re under a heat warning with the humidity: 41°C (105°F). It’s easy to pretend we’ve rewound to mid-August. The cicadas are still screaming, “always in unison” with their “high sustained note”, as in Lisel Mueller’s poem Cicadas:
Sometimes, September is not so straight forward. Sometimes, not everything changes once the calendar page is flipped.
“September has mellowed whatever there was of roughness in her heat: the days are more perfect, but less vigorous. Summer is in fact on the wane; peacefully fading like some brilliant spot of light.”
Virginia Woolf seemed fond of September:
“All the months are crude experiments, out of which the perfect September is made.”
In my solstice newsletter, I wrote that, “The fawns we knew in spring become indiscernible, we no longer recognize them when we cross their paths. We too grow our summer legs, stalking through curtains of heat in denim cutoffs, suddenly veterans of the season.”
Summer feels like the only time when becoming a veteran of the season is possible. As much as one may love autumn and winter, it’s true that we become constricted by our scarves and coats, no longer able to drift like samaras on the wind or move like a passing shadow. As Marge Piercy said, “We are ripening”.
The eventual transformation of the leaves feels as subtle as the discovery of the first snowdrops and croci of spring. A blot of yellow on an otherwise green poplar, or a gash of scarlet like a wound on a maple as you’re driving past - the colours creep in slowly, until the panorama is overwhelmed.
“I was not prepared; sunset, end of summer,” Louise Glück writes in The Sensual World. “Demonstrations of time as a continuum, as something coming to an end…”
Then the flowers became very wild
because it was early September
and they had nothing to lose
they tossed their colors every
which way over the garden wall
splattering the lawn shoving their
wild orange red rain-disheveled faces
into my window without shame
Reina María Rodríguez captures that September feeling to perfection in her poem, memory of water:
The arrival of autumn and winter - the mere suggestion of them - almost feels like a taunt. A reminder that we’re approaching darker days, that nothing gold can stay (if only for a handful of months). Now is a time of departure.
September is also a month of last chances: the last chance to swim in the lake, or pond, or river, the last time until next year that the sun will set after eight pm, which means the last glimpse of a particular light before a five month darkness. Lucent dusks which once lingered until nearly ten o’clock will be replaced by long, sunless evenings. Strangers will become more distant, appearing as faces illuminated on the other side of a kitchen window pane, figures greeting trick-or-treaters at the door. The air will smell like dinner and fire, burning pumpkins and crushed autumn leaves. Artificial light will become a second language. By five o’clock we’ll be reaching for lamps with muscle memory. Where pinks and peaches and greens ruled June through August, September is a distinctly gold month. Rust and bruise coloured tones. Think goldenrod, think sumach.
If you’re a summer person, this time of year is important.
Traditionally a period of preservation and harvest, it’s also for gathering what we want to carry with us through winter. Until September 23rd (the definitive end of summer, for those of us who refuse to let go), take advantage. Read outdoors while you still can, go for walks in the sun. Memorize the light. Make note of what’s expiring (shrivelled ears of mallow appearing like discarded candy wrappers, sidewalks littered with the carnage of squashed mulberries) and what is thriving (berries on the rowan trees are screaming with orange now). In September the air touches skin with new intent; the fingers on the breeze are no longer flirtatious. They’re trying to take us somewhere, redirect us. Layers come back, one by one, until we’re fully clothed again: a scarf, a toque, long pants. September is a departure, a doorway.
Adam Zagajewski, September, from Mysticism for Beginners