I used to dread fall. I’m an outdoors guy: I love to hike, bike, swim, go to the beach, toss a Frisbee, or simply appreciate the sunny blue skies. That would be summer.
But fall is different: shorter days, the onset of gray skies and – worst of all – winter looming ahead. And we all know about winter in the Midwest, with its bone-chilling temps, snow and ice, layers of clothing and dangerous conditions. Chicago’s fierce winter wind even has a name: The Hawk. (“They call it the Windy City because of the Hawk. The Hawk, almighty Hawk,” sings Chicago native Lou Rawls on his 1967 song Dead End Street.)
Keep that durn bird away from me! I knew it was irrational to judge one season by the one that follows, but I couldn’t clear my head of the notion that fall was winter’s harbinger, its sign-on, its door mat.
But this year is different. I’m into fall in a big way. Not sure what has made the difference. Maybe it’s because as I slide along into old age, I’ve learned to appreciate the special privilege and beauty of being alive every single day. Or maybe I see fall and winter as a metaphor for my own advancing stage in the life cycle.
But probably it’s less metaphysical and more to do with this year’s incredible weather. Winter 2022 was mild, spring was lovely and summer was spectacular. So far, fall is all those things.
And more: I realize fall has so many unique features. There are the fabulous colors, the leaves dropping and scattering like snowflakes in a strong wind, the brisk nights and crisp days, the delicious seasonal apples and pears.
And another realization. Winter really isn’t so bad! The last dozen or two have been downright balmy, compared with what I remember from half a century ago. I recall riding the Illinois Central railroad to work on Saturday, Jan. 28, 1967, a day after one of the worst blizzards in the city’s history. “You can see our competition to the east,” the conductor announced as we approached downtown. We looked out to see cars strewn and abandoned on Lake Shore Drive.
Or going to watch John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Bjorn Borg play at a “Challenge of Champions” exhibition in January 1984 at the old Rosemont Horizon (now the Allstate Arena). The tennis was spectacular but the weather outside was frightful, as the song goes, well below zero. We discovered, on returning to our car, that it was so cold outside the tires had deflated.
Any Chicagoan of a certain age remembers snow drifts from 1970s and 1980s blizzards that when plowed reached higher than a person’s head.
There seems nothing like that these days. The last 17-below-zero or colder day was in 1996. The record for consecutive subzero days was set 60 years ago. And even though the Farmers’ Almanac is forecasting a colder and snowier winter than usual, I doubt it will approach those bruising winters of yore. So bring it on!
Of course, milder winters may be the byproduct of global warming. There’s nothing to celebrate about that looming climate disaster. I’ll do what I can in my own small way to mitigate our carbon footprint and cheer on global efforts to stave off the apocalypse.
In the meantime, it’s OK to appreciate day after day of beautiful fall weather.