Fall is here

As a child in first grade, I learned how to write my first full sentence, welcoming the new season. The command of words pleased me so much that after penciling "Fall is here" a dozen times or so on a lined sheet of paper in class, I used colored chalks to repeat it on the sidewalks around my parents' house and even the bricks of the building. It became such a family code phrase that for the rest of his life my older brother Michael would call me every year near September 22 to remind me "Fall is here." And sometimes I would mail him a note, in several colors of ink, to say the same. I recently shared this memory with my science writing students at Smith College. Then I gave them a related assignment geared to their level: Write a one-paragraph explanation of the autumnal equinox. I knew this was tantamount to asking them to describe a spiral staircase without using their hands, but they met the challenge.

It feels fitting, at this time of year, to picture the tilted earth on its path through space, rounding a place in its orbit where sunlight falls evenly on the northern and southern hemispheres. The earth's annual cycle--more ancient and enduring than the leaves' consuming themselves in flame--moves all of us forward, on to face the next thing.

Fall is here.