Lessons of the Fall

Finding peace in transition. 

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." —Oscar Wilde

In Montana, when the nights settle softly into frost and aspens blaze behind a half-cocked autumn sun, there is time, at long last, to breathe. Summer is wonderful and exhausting; we gulp from its cup and hold our collective breath and dash from place to place, red-faced and frantic, grinning like fools with scrapes on our legs and dirt in our hair. But as good as summer is—as filled by it as we are—for many there is nothing quite so comforting as the quiet, steady settling of fall, and with it, a mysterious confidence that the best is yet to come.

It’s as if, in the burnished gray days of October and November, as the sky tilts southward and the wind turns cold, our summer excitement matures into something more substantial: something that will sustain us through the winter. Fall marks the completion of a cycle, the closing of a circle. A final puzzle piece pressed into place to make this Bozeman picture whole.

For hunters and skiers and climbers and those who relish cozy nights tucked close beside the woodstove, fall is a reward. For months of heat, and sweat, and smoke, and increasingly untenable crowds and traffic and urbanity. Because except for traveling trophy-seekers intent on shooting a private-land elk, autumn brings at last an end to the drive-up tourists and Instagram warriors. Quiet and calm return to the rivers and trails. Drivers wag an acknowledging finger-wave once more. Tension releases with every degree the temperature drops. This is the best time—between rain and sleet and snow squalls—to ride your bike, or wet your line, or pitch your tent in solitude. Fall is the last refuge for Montanans.

In this collective seasonal sigh, there is relief. And anticipation. For the autumn harvest; for the miraculous transition to winter; for a slowing of pace and tempering of expectation. The best is yet to come. It matters not whether it’s true—the feeling is persistent and persuasive. And for those who feel it—in the way we wake, and the way we breathe, and the way sunlight feels on our shoulders—this feeling is important. There is possibility in the fall. There is hope. There’s a new beginning coming somewhere down the line—a chance to do better.

Maybe that’s all that really matters in the end: Hope. Possibility. Opportunity. Maybe that’s wisdom.

Or maybe it’s just autumn in Montana.