We call it crisp, as if the air itself were breakable, fragile as a crystal wine glass. But there’s something in the cool, something that cleaves, even when not frozen. There’s been a change, as if the seasons themselves were states of matter and the world shifted from liquid to solid.

There’s that first ride in what is still technically summer, but as you look around, summer is—if not already on the turnpike, then at least turning toward the on-ramp. There are yellows, flecks of brown, perhaps a flash of orange and a smell, not the must of a cellar, but an aromatic of fatigue, the signal that all that growth, all that incessant photosynthesis is ready for a vacation.

I’ve been trained into these shifts with specific expectations. Arm warmers at first, then adding embrocation, knee warmers on the shorter rides, long sleeves for the days that start early, thoughts of fall centuries and fondos, memories of mountain bike rides where I watched my breath as I climbed; and with the sound of leaves crunching, the staccato of footsteps between barriers at a cyclocross race.

What Pavlov never wrote is how there’s an emotion well beyond expectation, that the bell brings more than thoughts of the future, but the ring can waken a kind of desire. We not only know the fall is coming, but some of us even want the fall. We want the chance to wear another layer, to race bikes with no bottle cages.

If I hit the right roads I can pass the last of the vineyards being harvested. There’s a fragrance that washes over me, sweet and unfinished. It’s as if the wind carries the plump of the grape in the way I can hear the call of a hawk that is a mile from me.

The poet Richard Wilbur once told a story of seeing a neighbor the morning following the fall’s first frost. With the devotion of a nun, she’d tended a garden brimming with annuals and perennials, colors splashed like a psychedelic album cover. He bent to express his concern, asking if she’d lost any of her flowers.

She looked up and smiled. Oh, thank heaven, yes!

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  1. jim

    That’s a cool quote.

    As my bike commute gets darker at both ends, it starts to overlap with the time that the owls return to their nests from hunting along the river. I don’t usually see them in summer and winter, only in the shoulder seasons.

  2. Frederick B.

    Wonderful writing! I love fall, but try not to think of what follows — winter’s sometimes 20 below zero weather here in the American Siberia. But spring will bring swimming, bicycling and running once again.

  3. Andrew

    Dude, you live in freakin’ California. Fall? You have Fall? What, it goes down to 50F sometimes in the morning?


    1. Author

      Here in Sonoma County we have something that is what I’ll call fall-ish. Certainly we have a change of seasons at the harvest, and it reminds me of my time in New England, a land for which I pine this time of year.

      As to the actual temperature, I’ll say in my defense that it’s 50 degrees in the morning even in July. 😉

    2. Kevin McTighe

      Grew up in New England where fall is special ! Live in Cali now, no fall here except in the Sierra. 😜

  4. Jay

    Some of the best rides happen in the Fall, at least in my memory. Early Fall, as in right now, is barely discernible from Summer in terms of temperatures. Daylight hours are shorter making weekday after-work rides impossible. No real changes in foliage, but you can see the farmers harvesting their summer crops and plowing those fields. Except for the increasing absence of songbirds there is not much else to mark the change. Later in October, after a good frost, the leaves will change color and drop in earnest. That is when the riding is best as the colors of Autumn are on full display and the rides are just for fun, no more training for this year.
    Note: I live in eastern Pennsylvania near the base of the Appalachians.

  5. Les.B.

    I’m from NorCal originally, and in addition to the signs of Fall mentioned, I would notice as a kid that around the time of the weather change and the falling of the apricot leaves in our yard, sparrows would streak around the yard at high speed. I didn’t know what they were up to, but the quickness of their flight was sure sign it was the danged time of year that school was beginning again. If I were still up there I would certainly pay note to those sparrows during Fall rides

    Here in SoCal, save for Indian Summers, Fall offers respite from the heat of summer and the bright overhead sun. [I say this knowing that what is “hot” for us is balmy for others]. Best rides here are in winter when the day is cloudy and ~65F.

    1. Author

      I shot that two years ago when I was there to do a reading at Outdoor Sports Center thanks to Mike Conlan, who I’m proud to say I’ve known for more than 20 years. You’ve got a sharp eye, Leo.

    2. Leo Belgicus

      I know every rock, tree and crack in these roads. 30 years riding there all year long.

      Let me know when you are in town again.

      Best roads and best local food on me.


    3. Author

      Wow. That was a case study in invitations. I can’t wait until I’m New England-bound again.

  6. Leo Belgicus

    I tried to post a photo from same spot different day but couldn’t figure it out. I am a non-strava, non cyclocomputer Luddite.

    Still as pretty as ever. Today’s lunch ride…77 degrees in October… in New England. Come by anytime-Leo

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