As summer cools down, autumn#039;s warmth takes over

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 21, 2005

It’s unmistakable now.

The odd slant of morning sunlight, the throaty cawing of crows, the olive-drab leaves that used to be supple and velvety-green, all point to one thing: Our languid hot days are at an end.

Summer, a season when lethargy becomes respectable, is my favorite time of year. The warm hours and days have a way of blending together seamlessly, convincing us that every day will be like those at hand.

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The lingering summer twilight, set to a score of whirring insects, plucks out even taller family tales and secrets from Southerners who’ve settled on porches to talk. Only transplanted Yankees and heat wimps could forsake storytelling in the glorious summer dusk for the sterility of air-conditioned living rooms.

That’s when winter seems like an ancient concept, a distant, vaguely unpleasant memory. Then autumn arrives to ease us into cooler days.

Every year, when the last hurrah of Labor Day has sounded, I find myself in denial for most of September, a fall month that effortlessly camouflages itself in the cloak of ideal summer.

It fools us - at least on days when hurricanes aren’t spinning nearby _ and lulls us with startlingly blue skies, warm sunlight and air so crisp you can practically bite it.

We women kid ourselves, if only for a while, that we’ve won the hair-vs.-humidity battle.

But even as September plays practical jokes, autumn’s distinctive signs are everywhere.

Students wait for the bus wearing stiff new jeans and stiffer smiles, or gather in clusters on college campuses, hauling backpacks swollen with new textbooks, chattering like magpies about professors and future exams.

Shoppers who moved with all the haste of molasses last month now stride briskly up the sidewalk into malls. Window displays of coats and boots have supplanted bikinis and flip-flops.

With summer vacations behind them, bleary-eyed morning commuters seem to have suddenly tripled in number.

And the beach, which two weeks ago bloomed with striped umbrellas, has been stripped bare of tourists. Hardy locals brave the sting of sand-laden breezes to sneak illicit sundowners in their beach chairs, or to examine the shells, kelp and occasional horseshoe crab churned from the deep.

Even the sun, which drifted lazily down to end summer days, seems to be restless, diving toward the horizon, impatient for nightfall. Post-work runs leave joggers groping for the keyhole in the dark.

There is a certain mournful beauty to autumn, its rare colors in Tidewater glowing like fractured gems amid the pines and live oaks, a reminder of the inevitable decay that accompanies life.

And when the gray, windy days of fall finally blow in and rain pelts the roof, no one needs an excuse to yank up the blanket and stay in bed 10 minutes longer. Make that a half-hour.

Me, I dread winter, even our mild version, with its cold toes, chilly fingers and ice-pick winds. Not a January day goes by that I don’t long for the warm-shower air of June and July.

Fall may be a precursor to what’s around the corner. But we can at least enjoy a final splendid flame-out before the damp icy air of winter invades our bones.

Bronwyn Lance Chester is a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk. Readers may write to her at The Virginian-Pilot, 150 West Brambleton Avenue, Norfolk, Va. 23510, or send her e-mail at