Another Write-wing Conspirator

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    Armchair philosopher, politically-incorrect political commentator, raconteur, retired air traffic controller, dilettante truck driver, US Army veteran, recluse, sometime-writer, redneck convert neè Buckeye, ne'er-do-well, bon vivant, unrepentant libertine, unapologetic libertarian, and (of course) curmudgeon…

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Autumn’s Simple Pleasures

Posted by The Curmudgeon on November 15, 2010

The little things we sometimes overlook are often the most cherished.


Those who know me also know well my position on seasonal weather and temperature: Warm is good. I despise being cold. I’ve gone so far as to claim that merely looking at Christmas cards induces hypothermia. Managing to survive bone-chilling winters in Korea during my Army years, New England blizzards, and that thirty-something-below-zero insanity in Wisconsin (residing in an eighteen-wheeler, no less) has forever cemented me as a warm-weather guy. I’ve long clung desperately to each warm day of the waning summer—even as leaves begin to fall, heralding the arrival of autumn. Immediately following winter’s last shiver, I’m only too happy to peel-off layers of clothing and let the sweat flow.

As with virtually every rule, however, there are exceptions.

I’m not certain exactly when or why it came to pass (possibly coinciding with the onset of my own autumn years?), but…I’ve come to not only appreciate but actually cherish a number of autumn’s simple treasures and pleasures.

Many of us have fond memories, for example, of the childhood joy of wading through an ankle-deep accumulation of fallen leaves. Ever tried it as an adult? Good therapy, in its own right. (Never fails to bring to mind the lyrics of Justin Hayward’s Forever Autumn: “…through autumn’s golden gown we used to kick our way…”) To slip on a pair of boots and go tromping through the woods is at once invigorating and relaxing, allowing the cool autumn air to clear the mind (this experience is enhanced by having your dogs accompany you).

Speaking of fallen leaves…

Living in a heavily-wooded area, the annual leaf-raking battle has slowly given way to an odd affinity for what once was a seemingly never-ending chore. Not bad exercise, and it’s time well-spent away from televisions and computers. And it carries with it its own reward of instant gratification; unlike planting seeds and waiting weeks to see the result, one can see the immediate fruits of one’s labors. (I should point out here that my basic philosophy regarding physical work echoes Jimmy Buffett’s line that “Any manual labor I’ve done was purely by mistake.” You know those people who seem to live to work? I’m not one of them.) Of course, it’s not all work, anyway; ever had a couple dogs “help” you with raking leaves? Fun stuff.

Having a fireplace brings another set of mixed work/pleasure experiences.

My wife and I are enamored of wood-burning fireplaces. Yes, we know they smell. Yes, they produce soot. Blah, blah, blah. We nonetheless refuse to join the ranks of propane-burners. Sorry, but…the hiss of gas pumped through a pipe simply cannot compare with the familiar crackle of a wood fire. We similarly maintain that no fire is complete without the smell of burning wood (hickory is best). Yes, we’re also aware of the extra work of splitting logs, fetching wood from the stack, scooping-out ashes, and dusting-away the inevitable soot. We insist that it’s all worth it.

All summer long, the fireplace lies dormant, of course. It’s always a little odd, those first few spring evenings when there’s no fire; the room seems dead, somehow. With that first fire of the fall, though, it’s as if the house comes back to life. Moreover, there’s nothing quite so exquisite as stepping inside out of the cold and wandering over to the fireplace. It’s warm. It’s comforting.

My wife from time to time suggests that I get a log-splitter in lieu of dragging-out axe, sledge hammer, wedge, and maul. It’s sound advice.

I’ve never taken it. I won’t, either. At least, not as long as I’m physically able to do the job manually.

Perhaps it’s a touchstone to the past, but there is (even for a lazy guy like me) something uniquely pleasing about swinging an axe or maul, and bringing it crashing down to the equally pleasing sound of a log being split apart. It’s good work. It’s clean, outdoor work, very physical. Superb exercise. And again there’s the instant gratification of seeing immediate results of one’s efforts. (It should also be noted that my wife — notwithstanding that good advice I mentioned — let it be known years ago that watching a man clad in boots, jeans, and a flannel shirt splitting logs just absolutely cranks her up. More gratification.)

Can you recall as a child coming home on a chilly day and being greeted by the aroma of “comfort food” being prepared? A roast, perhaps? Or stew? Chili? Chicken and dumplings? Do you remember the almost immediate feeling of warmth that it provided? That sense of security?

Odds are that hasn’t changed. We still like it. A lot — which, I believe, accounts in part for the enduring popularity of Thanksgiving. (More on that in a moment.)

I should also point out that my wife is the archetypal autumn girl. It’s her favorite season, and from the first cool morning, she envelopes the house with seasonal decorations and a mixture of scents. Bundles of withered corn stalks and bales of hay greet visitors approaching the front door. There’s a cinnamon broom in the dining room. Various scented candles burn frequently, and little cookers filled with aromatic herbs and spices add to the atmosphere. Vanilla and ginger frequently permeate the air. Little gourds and bowls of nuts dot the household, as do displays of preserved leaves, berries, and such. It’s what she does—and she’s very good at it. With the onset of cooler weather, it all makes for a cozy, comforting environment.

It seems appropriate that autumn’s crown jewel — Thanksgiving — should come just before winter’s arrival; sort of like saving the best for last.

My wife has long lamented that Thanksgiving has become a “forgotten holiday.” Oh, sure, we get a couple days off from work, eat too much, watch football, that sort of thing. And then there’s the day after Thanksgiving to mark the semi-official beginning of the holiday shopping madness. Commercially speaking, Thanksgiving is a dud. Beyond the massive amounts of turkey and trimmings sold, it’s a holiday that many merchants would just as soon forget. During the two weeks or so preceding Halloween, there’s a pretty good shot in the arm for business; afterward, though, they’d mostly prefer that everyone just fast-forward to Christmas shopping. Hence, the “forgotten” label.

In response, my better half has doggedly striven to keep Thanksgiving alive. It’s her specialty, and she really does it up big. I can scarcely begin to describe the enormity of her efforts—and I, of course, am the happy beneficiary thereof. And, oh, does the house smell inviting on that day. To be outside on a chilly Thanksgiving morning…splitting logs…grabbing a load of wood and walking back to the house…smoke rising from the chimney…the bouquet of aromas wafting from the kitchen…stepping into a warm house—greeted, of course, by a comfy fire and all those amalgamated cooking aromas increased tenfold. Add-in the family members who stop by, a couple football games, and pie (lots of pie) and you have the makings of a pretty cozy day.

And then comes winter. You’ll forgive me if a avoid the topic, preferring to dwell a bit longer on my acquired taste for autumn.

I vividly recall a morning several years ago. I awoke right about first light, greeted by a mixture of distinctive aromas: the last vestiges of a hickory log still smoldering in the fireplace, fresh coffee being brewed (bless that timer), and fresh-baked bread (yet another timer). I let the dogs out, feeling the crisp autumn air as I closed the door. After pouring myself a cup of coffee, I sat by the fireplace, pausing to immerse myself in the “feel” it all created for me before actually starting the day.

It just doesn’t get any better.


4 Responses to “Autumn’s Simple Pleasures”

  1. J.W. Blackwood said

    Absolutely exquisite post on the blog today Jim! It absolutely made my day!

  2. LarryZ said

    Great fare, I enjoyed the sensitory visualizations. You know what cranks my wife up??? Wal-Mart!!!

  3. Glad y’all liked it. A little break from the political palaver. 🙂

    Larry: Have ya tried pasting that little WalMart happy face to your forehead? 😉

  4. Ed said

    I hate winter, Your blog made it sound so good, I almost cought myself looking forward to it.

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