On transitions

23 September 2016

Every year, when summer begins fading into fall, I end up listening to a lot of Bob Dylan and reading a lot of Ray Bradbury. The seasonal connection to Dylan I can’t quite explain—it might just feel like going home, which, like Jack says, we all do in October. But the Bradbury makes more apparent sense. If there ever were an author whose work belongs more to autumn, and the cloudy, inbetween world where summer bleeds into it, I haven’t met them yet. Neither, I suspect, has anyone else.

Fall is when you feel the dim side of transition, the implications of change that might not be so pleasant—as opposed to spring when all focus is shifting to the future and its bright promise. Both views are incomplete, but human tradition has cast their roles and so they stand, and we play our own parts by cheering and booing when prompted. Fall is when we think about the past, when the sky flattens grey and twilight gets longer and those gone are supposed to come back to claim whatever they lost. Things die and the cold comes.

I am now reading Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, which I haven’t read in many, many years. I remembered little of it but a hazy sense of beauty. In reality, it’s a crystalline description of beauty, a literal tale of recording a time and place in the full bloom of its summer so that it’s never forgotten, bottled up and shining with light from the inside. It opens on the first afternoon of summer where a young boy is struck for the first time with the conscious realization that he is alive, truly, deeply alive. He spends the rest of the season preserving every memory as much as possible while sucking the marrow from every experience before it’s gone.

I realize that I remember so little about the book because when I first read it I was young myself, and when that’s the case, one has a limited capacity for meta self-realization. I hadn’t found my summer afternoon yet. It didn’t come until much later in my life, and it came slowly, not so much a violent pounce but a quiet, far-reaching dawn. That inexplicable moment that tells you, what a terrific thing it is to be here and challenges you to remember that fact beyond its momentary impulse.

Although Bradbury’s story is explicitly tied to a certain time and place, it feels like it exists out of any time and place. It’s almost a hundred years since the tale’s stated year passed. It tells of the town’s first motorcar and the end of its trolley line and grumbles at the march of progress. It paints Green Town, Illinois with distinct lines and colors. But what the story is really about flows underneath those details, formless, timeless and universal. It points to the spaces in the margins, the pauses in between the words. The changing of the seasons. During transitions, everything shifts, and it’s not always comfortable. It becomes important to sort out what we want to hold onto as security and what we should hold onto as touchstones. Too often I’ve clung to the former and forgotten the latter. Fall is a good reminder that somewhere in the misty middle is the truth.


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