From deep inside I feel the coming of winter. That time of magnificent transition in the northeast part of America is autumn. It has a unique scent and color palette; the feel of the air on skin is prickles a ripple of events in the body that resonate with some ancient, primal programming that whispers of endings and decay. And with it, for me at least, comes a rush of melancholy swirling around all those things that I’ve lost in this short life.
Walking through the woods I can feel it. As the cycle of the season rolls on we head to the quiet death of winter.
Modern life has certainly masked those whispers making it possible to be deaf to them completely. Ample food, shelter and clothes challenge even the most bitter weather. I confess my own guilt and reliance on technology to blunt the lessons programmed by DNA for survival — triggered by the coming of autumn.
As a rider autumn stirs different thoughts. Where are my electric gloves? Pay attention to the wet leaves on the road. When do I mount the winter tires? Start thinking more clearly about riding gear and the cooler weather.
Pushing the Vespa scooter from the garage last week I could see the leaves gathering on the driveway. The temperature this morning was 34F — a shocking cold compared to the balmly weather to this point.
Riding now grows a bit more complicated. Weather, road conditions and gear all demand more attention. The rides remain a powerful aspect of my daily life but they’re different. In part because of those technical changes, but mostly because my thoughts change. The autumn melancholia seizes me and won’t let go.
I wonder what my father and mother would think of me now, riding a Vespa, traveling on two wheels, something they forbid growing up. My thoughts hover on the people in my life that I’ve lost.
Looking toward the mountains I think of the walks I made with my mother through the German and Austrian Alps. A bowl of hot chicken noodle soup in an Alpine restaurant. My hands tightly gripping a steel cable as she led me up a rock face to admire a cross placed on a mountain top. I miss her most strongly in autumn.
Riding provides time to think. And with it comes feelings. Often excitement and thrills. But sometimes sadness and the pain of loss. Autumn reminds me that I only have a fixed amount of time — to live, to love, to bear witness to this world.
My experience is not unique. Others have shared similar experiences with melancholy surfacing in autumn. My wife describes it as a fear of losing everything. I understand. And I know those feelings are, well, feelings, and not necessarily a harbinger of reality.
Standing on a hillside not far from home I think about the forest in front of me and how it has changed. Heavily forested at one point and stripped bared another. Things change. And me with them.
Riding this time of year in central Pennsylvania is nothing short of an orgy of the senses. The colors seem to shift by the minute toward a red-orange celebration of light. Each turn in the road reveals a different portrait of the season. The fragrance of decaying leaves provides a savory counterpoint to the sweetness of cut hay or harvested corn.
Autumn also marks the beginning of my riding season. The time where I wake to the world on two wheels. Where the miles on the odometer start to add up.
Autumn reminds me of the past. Memories from the past are distillations of events that stand out in their simplicity. Walking through a forest with my father. Or seeing him behind the wheel of our Volkswagen Campmobile as we drove west to Colorado. Hearing him call me “boy.”
Thinking of my own simple acts — time spent in cafes with my journal; watching people, evaesdropping on conversations and playing the spy. Saint’s Cafe in State College, Pennsylvania will certainly haunt my memories.
Autumn means fewer scooters and motorcycles on the road. Many seem to pack it in on Labor Day, following the closings of parks and swimming pools as if it might snow at any moment. Before long I’ll feel alone on the road. And worry that drivers give up their recognition of motorcycles on Labor Day as well.
Tea is better in autumn. Wrapping my hands around a hot cup is heavenly when the cold air has rendered fingers and joints into icy meat. I wonder if people look at me as caress the cup, face lingering in the steam, eyes staring back in time.
When I’m questioned about Scooter in the Sticks I tend not to say a lot about the technical aspects of riding. Autumn fires the mind and spirit despite any sadness of loss that comes with it, and I remember why I write and post photographs. I don’t want to miss or forget what it means to be alive. Riding is one avenue toward that awareness. Photography can add markers to tag an experience. But writing reaches in to clutch those thoughts and feelings that I may otherwise miss.
Just a few thoughts on autumn.