On a sunny October day, I drove with my daughters out of the city of St. Louis up the Great River Road to pick apples in rural Illinois. We rode a wagon out to the orchard, stuck our heads among the tree branches, inhaled the tangy scent of fruit fermenting on the ground, and filled large paper bags with crisp Fuji apples. After we had picked and eaten our fill, we lingered, breathing in the dappled sunlight, as we waited for the wagon to pick us up.
It was a day symbolic of all we love about autumn. This season is full of activities, especially for families with kids, but it doesn’t feel overwhelmingly busy. It’s not like the coming Christmas season, which has a well-deserved reputation for being stressful and, right or not, has come to revolve around completing a to-do list before a single, climactic day.
During autumn, we are busy simply being, which is relaxing and soul-nourishing.
We set aside weekends to pick apples and visit the best pumpkin patch play areas. We bury ourselves in giant sandboxes filled with dried corn kernels that find their way into our pockets and shoes. We spin on tire swings and lose our sense of direction and time in corn and hay mazes. We feed vending machine mystery pellets to farm animals and laugh at the antics of goats. We come home with straw in our hair and wholesome air in our lungs.
In the evenings when darkness sets in ever earlier, the lights glow warm inside our homes and we roll up our sleeves and scoop stringy pumpkin innards onto the kitchen table. We spread seasoned pumpkin seeds onto baking sheets. We look up pumpkin carving ideas online. (My best carved creation was a cat last year.) I scatter colorful mini gourds as decorations across the dining room table.
We bake pumpkin bread, wear sweaters, and go on hikes to admire the trees. Children snuggle on our laps at bonfires. I bring out our much-loved Little People Halloween and Thanksgiving play sets, which my daughters have been begging me to carry up from the basement for weeks.
Even in the busyness of the season, there is something healthy and relaxing about it.
Carving pumpkins is quality family time. Hiking through woods that look like a painting is good exercise. When we spend a day outdoors in the apple orchard or pumpkin patch, my breathing slows and deepens. My shoulders loosen and my head feels clear. Being in natural outdoor settings changes our brains, reducing stress hormone levels and lowering risks of anxiety and depression.
Autumn is easygoing and forgiving. If autumn had a personality, it would be a laid back Type B. You can be as active or as lazy as you want and, either way, you feel like you have properly celebrated the season. You can visit all the pumpkin patches and pick your own apples and make applesauce, or you can just shuffle your feet in the fallen leaves and admire the giant inflatable Frankenstein in your neighbor’s yard as you walk the kids to school. You can decorate National Lampoon-style or stick a solitary pumpkin on your front step. Your choice. No one will judge.
I soak up the lovely calm of autumn, hopeful that some of its peace will carry over into agenda-driven Type A December. It is a shame what we have done to Jesus’ birthday.
But for now, during autumn, we celebrate living in the moment. It is enough to simply be, wherever you are or whatever you do. You have permission to spend time with your family, to roam outdoors, and to cover your kitchen table in pumpkin goo if you feel like it. May you make good simple memories, and breathe deeply of the crisp air that follows the long, hot summer.
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