The Florida air has chilled. While it may feel like winter elsewhere–and with devastating consequences due to two powerful storms–it is now autumn in Florida. As a California girl, fall was associated primarily with Thanksgiving and Santa Ana winds (i.e. dry air and fires).  Upon leaving California, though, it has also become associated with peacefulness, harvest, culture, home, warmth, and beauty.

Following California, my two subsequent locales (Moldova and Massachusetts) have had stunning autumns, but each place brought strikingly different memories to the air. Moldova’s fall brought wine, fermentation, fruitfulness, harvest, and celebration. Massachusetts’ brought intellectual excitement, history, and family. Now, in Florida, fall brings relief, pleasant surprises, and homesickness for three homes simultaneously.

Who wouldn’t want to eat outside when this is where you’d sit?

It also brings hope. In honor of this beautiful change of season, let me share the roots of this new appreciation. Here is an entry from my second fall as a Peace Corps Volunteer, when the autumn weather (and the uncertainty that followed) was starting to feel more foreign than the language. What a valuable reminder of the benefits of unplanned futures.

Original entry on October 14, 2008:

I just need to give credit to Autumn. It’s beautiful and mysterious. It reminds me abstractedly of California Fall but it’s more surprising. The dry wind still signifies that Thanksgiving Day is coming, but the difference is the proximity of all colors together. Sure, trees change color in California too, but there’s no one to sweep the leaves away here. And the narrowness of the roads brings all the leaves together, so with the above-and-below of auburn, yellow, and orange, I’m surrounded in Fall – and I love it. And Los Angeles doesn’t have the sweet, fermenting wine smell. I have that here.

My stubbornness against the cold won’t hurt anyone else, but I’m a walking contradiction: I hate being cold, but resist layering up in loads of clothing. So I wore a skirt today. A denim miniskirt. But I want to soak up all bits of sunlight before I turn pallid, bundled in clothing I don’t want to be wearing.

In 18 days I’ll be testing my English on the GRE. My verbal and math skills had normally been about on par with each other, but studying English words in a Moldovaneasca-speaking country means I speak JUMBLISH. Words I thought I knew now look intimidating and, more often, annoying. Before October hit, I started really missing English, missing my understanding of nuances, missing the richness of our vocabulary. And then I started studying that richness, and now I’m not so sure that we need scores of words for “criticism” or “bad-tempered.” And why does there have to be a separate word for “the support structures of measuring instruments”?

When I’m done being tested on my English-language vocabulary, I’m sure I’ll appreciate it once again. But for the time being, I need to start living the “don’t be afraid to aim high” blabber I’ve been exclaiming to those who have dared it before me. Ironically, last week was quite emotional and, frustratingly, without a specific stimulus. All the richness of two languages couldn’t describe my mood. Not that I’m new to the random desire to “cry it out” but an extended inability to sleep hit a head when I was reintroduced to shin splints. Part of aiming high means getting your hopes up – something I haven’t let myself do for a while. Maybe that’s why it’s more exciting for me to “leave things to fate.” Trying to do everything you can to “do it right” means that you’ve put energy and hope and faith into it and you risk losing that when it doesn’t work out. But the biggest thing I’m remembering is that keeping your chin up is more important than not getting your hopes up. So I guess this is me saying: I’m not afraid to want something.

Of course I have a tendency to change my “future plans” spontaneously and radically. I didn’t go to the college I accepted, I didn’t finish grad school applications one month before they were due, I left the Peace Corps decision up to destiny, and I still think about art school – but this is where my heart (and mind) is at the moment.

Autumn in Moldova means grapes and the first sips of wine.

Upon reflection, I see how right I was at predicting more of my spontaneous changing of plans. What does autumn mean to you, personally?