Is it an inevitable part of being human, to have everything beautiful tinged with the knowledge of its end?

It’s finally fall, and it will only last for a little while. On my way to class, everywhere I look there is somewhere for my eyes to rest. A shimmer of red — leaves rustling in the breeze; a patch of glowing yellow in the distance. The air is crisp and fresh. It smells as if it’s passed through a damp deep forest before it got here. The fallen leaves lay flat on the pavement — shiny and moist, in their final phases of fall.

Soon, once the air goes from moist to dry, the leaves will shrivel up and turn brown. I can’t help but think about that when I look at them now, bright yellow and glistening with dew. I look at the yellow leaves still on the trees above me. Every gust of wind threatens to take them down.

I remember the fall when we got Tye, my dog, ten years ago. He was so small and sickly. He had been abandoned under a porch in Georgia, living off of dirt. Now his belly is big and he’s a part of our family. He loves to stand at the top of our driveway and bark as if he’s protecting us. Now that he’s getting older, it takes him a little longer to stand up and to warm up his joints for a walk. The hair on his snout has turned gray, and he has some small lumps on his body. I didn’t used to notice the changes Tye’s going through. But now I’m away at school and I only see him every couple of months. Last time I visited, I noticed his spine was more pronounced than it ever used to be. 

It’s hard not to feel fall leaving as soon as it arrives. The clean, fresh October air has a crispness that gets harsher every week. You can feel it in your throat. And one day the breeze will make you shiver and you’ll have to close your bedroom window. The days will get shorter. Darkness comes earlier and earlier. And it’ll stay that way for months. The freeness you feel in the fall is kept in check by a thought I wish my brain knew how to cast aside: this won’t last. You’d think we’d be more rational than to taint today with the anticipation of its end. Sometimes our brains do relieve us of what we know and we feel the pure joy of a perfectly beautiful day. But our brains can only suspend belief for so long. My pleasure is at the whim of a drop in temperature, of one windier day. 

Fall is my mom’s favorite time of year. She says it’s the closest she gets to feeling God. Every September, I see her sitting in the backyard with her cup of coffee, taking a deep breath and letting out a long sigh. Beautiful things remind us of life’s fundamental simplicity. I think what she means by feeling God is that fall makes the world seem perfect, like everything is in its rightful place. Human-level things don’t feel as important; bad days aren’t existential. In the fall, we all settle into new routines with a clean slate. My family and I drive to our favorite town in upstate New York for a hike and listen to music the whole way, looking forward and needing nothing more to feel perfectly fine. The drive is just a couple of hours long. But in that time, I feel the comfort of being around my mom and dad that I’ve felt since birth. My sister and Mom are happy. Tye’s fully recovered from Lyme disease and my dad is home after a long stretch of travel. The pandemic is over, at least for now. I’m young and healthy, and my family is, too. I look back at the foliage, keeping my gaze up, trying hard not to look at the ground.