Mudsock Heights

Mudsock Heights

The View from Mudsock Heights: Autumn Moves In, Pushing Away the Summer that Wasn't

By Dennis E. Powell | Posted at 3:59 AM

Pity the poor person who doesn’t live in or near a college town. Autumn arrives and all that changes is the weather. In a college town, there is an air of excitement. The energy level increases. It’s exactly the opposite of the normal order of things, where spring is the time of rebirth. For a college town, it is the fall when everything, yes, springs back to life.

Oddly, though, the autumnal resurrection of our seats of higher learning doesn’t feel right until it gets a little chilly. Which last week it did.

It’s not as though we really had much of a summer. No initial heat wave heralded the season’s arrival. Normally we might look back and count the few truly pleasant days amid the heat, but this year it was the other way around. There were some hot days, but we never experienced the epic temperatures that make it unpleasant to think about going outside.

Even stranger, though we are in a drought, my chief memory of the summer, the summer that never really was, is of rain. Maybe we didn’t have all that much rain — it could be that the downpours simply coincided with my plans to do something outside.

But there are real, measurable indications that this summer was a dud.

Normally, one can mow the lawn and within a day or two it has impressively grown back. This year, at least on my little spread, a week later you could still see the tracks from the mower wheels.

(Weeds grew, of course, but weeds are more rugged and carefree than the dainty, curled-pinkie plants that we grow on purpose.)

I did not harvest a single tomato this year. Critters got them while they were still green. A couple of squirrels found their eternal reward as a result, but they were the slow ones. It may be that pests and varmints were taking tomatoes in previous years and I didn’t notice because there were so many other specimens that made it to their delicious ripeness.

The truth is, the tomato plants never got healthy. I got and installed sturdy, robust plants in the spring, and while the last freeze wasn’t especially late it never really warmed up here. They never got the boost they need. My tomato plants were spindly and unenthusiastic and didn’t much grow.

There is talk of the blight, and I suppose that it could figure in, but until I have proof I’m not going to blame the lack of a tomato crop on it. We too easily latch on to such things. Every hot day is evidence of global warming. Every sneeze is the swine flu. That kind of talk merely creates background noise that makes it hard to determine if the real thing is happening. So I’m blaming my tomato paucity on the cool weather and no matter its glories I shall remember 2009 as the year I didn’t have a single good tomato.

All of which makes it a good thing that the week before students returned we had a few days of nice, hot, humid, unpleasant weather. Without it, much of the excitement that surrounds the restart of school wouldn’t infect the soul as it does.

When it remains hot long into the fall, there’s a sense of not-rightness. Things that we happily endure as part of the natural order of things instead become annoyances. The inability to find a parking place, on a chilly, sunny autumn day, is a sign of liveliness, of commerce, of a thriving community. On a hot day, it’s just a pain.

Which is why last week, when the temperature at night dropped into the 40s, it was such a complete delight. Taking one’s coffee on the porch when that coffee is especially warming and good, when one thinks of going inside for a flannel shirt, is a real and rare pleasure. Soon, we will be sniffing the air for that first wisp of woodsmoke. Soon, we will have to drive especially carefully because the deer will be enthralled by their unstoppable drive to reproduce. (Students, too, though the careful ones are just going through the motions and, anyway, they don’t conduct their mating rituals in the middle of the road. At least most of them don’t.)

Soon, we’ll step outside of an evening and see our breath. This will be followed by the turning of the leaves, the payment in advance we receive for having to sweep them up later. Some of us will wish we had been more diligent about acquiring and stacking wood, and there is of course never enough kindling.

Summer had its chance, and summer fell short. It never really felt right. Sure, we may have a week or two of Indian summer, but for all intents and purposes autumn has arrived.

That’s just fine. In a college town and its surrounding countryside, autumn is the liveliest, most energetic, most optimistic time of the year.

Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at