Fall’s Barbarous Beauty
My whole life I’ve heard that very soon schools will put an end to the traditional summer break. Gone are America’s agrarian days, when students needed summers off to help with the harvest. Now students use summers to engage in much less healthy and productive activities. (I remember concluding many summer days with bloodshot eyes, trying to earn another star in SimTower as I pierced my fourth or fifth juice box.)
Our agricultural past is further away than ever. As an English literature doctoral student in my 20th and final year of classes, I work like mad over the summers to make ends meet on a stipend. But classes still start at harvest time, just like they did when I stood at the end of our driveway, bleary eyed from sugar withdrawal, waiting for the bus to lurch into view and carry me off to another year of elementary school.
Year after year, even with farming no longer in the picture, why do we follow these rhythms?
There is something deep in the human psyche that wants to move with the seasons, to change when they do. It just feels right. You can call it the force of 20 years’ habit if you want, but it does feel right to start school in the fall. In a strange synesthesia, I associate the cold damp ground with the smell of newly sharpened pencils. As the color drains from the grass and leaves, I crave cafeteria food.
The fall seems uniquely suited to the kind of attention that learning requires. Maybe because it is rich with paradox. It is both an end and a beginning. It is the end of summer, the growing season, the end of harvest work. It is the end of long days and colorful blooms. But even as these steal away, suddenly—even at the same instant—other things begin. As chlorophyll ...
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