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Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Most Wonderful Time of Year

Autumn, the year's last, loveliest smile. -- William Cullen Bryant 

Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall. -- F. Scott Fitzgerald 

An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day. -- Henry David Thoreau

"It's the most wonderful time of the year," to borrow a line from a song. No, I'm not talking about the Christmas season. I'm thinking about autumn.

Even here in the desert southwest, there is a distinct and welcome feeling of fall in the air, although the cottonwoods and other native trees haven't yet begun to cloak themselves in beautiful shades of yellow and gold. It sometimes is cool enough to turn off the air conditioner and open the windows for a couple of hours in the morning. Although autumn doesn't arrive officially until Sept. 22, and daytime temperatures still often reach well into the 80s, the new season is beginning to make an appearance.

My appreciation of this wonderful time of year has increased greatly since I moved to the high desert, with its long, hot, dry summers. Autumn brings changes detectable by sight, sound, feel and scent. We don't get the beautiful red and orange leaves typical of maple trees, but our cottonwoods and aspens still can put on a gorgeous display of gold. 

Autumn mornings are cooler, and the sun begins to peek over the shoulders of the Sandia Mountains to the east later in the day. I appreciate this, as my bedroom faces east. The angle of the sun is lower and the days are shorter than during the hot summer. The rising sun and clouds on the horizon create brilliant sunrises. And bright yellow flowers bloom along the roads and acequias.

In addition to the cooler nighttime temperatures, another sure sign of autumn is the appearance in the skies over central New Mexico of hot air balloons. I saw a couple dozen balloons early one recent morning as I was out walking. In just a couple of weeks, the skies will be filled with hundreds of colorful balloons from around the world participating in the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Depending on the winds on a given day, many of the balloons fly over my neighborhood, and some pass directly over my house.

The famous New Mexico green chiles have been harvested and chile roasting is underway at many grocery stores in the area, with the smell of roasting chiles filling the air. Shoppers snap up 30-pound bags of the spicy chiles, freezing them after roasting for use during the rest of the year. The fall rains, the last of the ‘monsoon’ season, have arrived, bringing much-needed moisture to parched yards and plants, and replenishing a bit of the water in the Rio Grande and lakes, streams and rivers throughout the state. Southern New Mexico has been getting too much rain – an irony in this bone-dry state – and many areas have been flooded. But the rest of the state remains very dry. Even some of my desert plants have struggled to survive our years-long drought, so these rains are always very welcome.

Even the air is different in autumn, with a different smell than is found the rest of the year. It feels crisp and seems lighter somehow. Once in a while I get a whiff of smoke from someone's fireplace or fire pit, and the smell of fallen leaves adds to the different aroma.

With the changing of the weather comes planning for my annual road trip Durango, CO, to ride the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The 45-mile route is lined with
mountain creeks and beautiful aspens, ending in the old mining town of Silverton at some 9,300 feet above sea level..
I have started to eye the row of cookbooks in my kitchen as I yearn for the pleasures of a hot cup of soup, or the aroma of black bean chili or stew cooking in the slow cooker. Thoughts of making pumpkin bread and cornbread make an appearance. My morning cup of tea, a daily ritual throughout the year, is even more enjoyable on a cool, crisp morning.

Soon I will be able to leave a window open in my bedroom at night. In the early morning, I can open dining room windows to let in the fresh, cool air. I am looking forward to wearing different clothes than the hot-weather shorts and tops I have worn for months. Long sleeves, sweatshirts and light jackets will emerge from the closets where they have waited the past several months. Soon, tens of thousands of birds will make their annual migration through central New Mexico on their way to their winter homes. The honking of geese and the unusual calls of the sandhill cranes will soon fill the skies.

It's now time to replace the brightly colored summer tablecloth with one filled with browns and oranges, and to set out the autumn-themed accents in my house. Even small changes in decor make for a refreshing change.

I dread the cold, dark days of winter, as I hate to be cold. But the coming of autumn is always  welcome. What's not to like about this time of year? It brings cooler temperatures, crisp nights, glorious leaves of many colors, awesome azure skies, and a desire to prepare some home-cooked comfort foods.