Autumns: 4

I was back working full-time nights after moving to Utah, and Lori let me sleep every morning after I'd be up past 1 a.m. every night (our deadlines were later back then, and I could never just come home and go to sleep. However, this late September morning, not two months after we moved, she woke me up early. Our apartment had a balcony with a nice little view of the Salt Lake Valley, and this day, for the first time, there was snow on the mountains across the distance. The sight -- one we never had growing up -- cemented the reality or our move into a new chapter in our lives. And it sure was pretty.

The sunsets in November are even more amazing. The sun drops beyond the Oquirrh Mountains, giving off an orange glow above the silhouetted peaks. The view is unique to my Utah experience, but it feels like the Novembers I have encountered my whole life.

I played so much Atari in 1982. Megamania and Pitfall. Berserk and Defender. Starmaster and Demon Attack. E.T. came out November, and wow, it was frustrating. Grandma bought me Earthworld that fall, which I foolishly chose over Wizard of Wor.

I started a paper route that fall. I listened to WLS and WBBM a lot, and taped songs off the radio. "Steppin' Out" by Joe Jackson and "Hold On" by Santana especially remind me of that November.

If I could divide my youth between little kid and not so little kid, it would be around this November. Of course, being close to my teen years had something to do with it, but everything got a bit more serious. I knew more about the dangers of the world (remember, this wasn't a fun time to be a kid during the Cold War). I pondered things for hours, especially while walking the paper route. And I sprouted taller -- 10 inches over the next three years.

Just like fall 1979 seemed to start something new, as did 1987, as did 2000, as did many autumns over the decades, a new phase was beginning.

Lori and I only had one day to do what we needed to do in Madison. She had a job interview, and we needed to find an apartment. We got an early start from Milwaukee, and the afternoon was cloudy and rainy. I heard an awesome '70s station that would switch formats in six weeks. Lori's interview went well, and we went to Irish Waters for lunch. Not quite knowing my way around the west side of Madison, I got on the Beltline on Mineral Point Road and headed back east, rather than just turning back east toward the city. The expressway curved into a view of five or six large apartment complexes lining the side of the road. We veered off the Gammon Road exit and checked out almost each one.

Three weeks later, we were Madisonians. The night we moved in, I drove to find Chinese takeout for dinner, and felt like I had arrived. The previous year was limbo at my former newspaper, and I deep down knew we'd be in another city when it was all said and done. We lucked out in that we landed in Madison.

The first couple months or so in Mad Town were unique for me. Lori was commuting to Milwaukee through November before her new job started up. I was getting used to early mornings (my new job was an afternoon newspaper), and my afternoons were sometimes spent driving around my new city or exploring walks to take in our new neighborhood. The November evenings arrived so early -- Lori didn't get home each night until it was dark. Eventually, our routine normalized, and we thrived in Madison. We got engaged in 1996, married in 1997. Lori got her degree from the UW. In retrospect, our five years in Madison were the dreamiest time of our lives.

Lori is in her third trimester with Michael. We are in our new house, and one October midweek she is out of town and I'm painting the impending baby's room blue, in preparation for my sister visiting and turning the walls into an ocean scene. The temperature drops on one of those days, and I don my winter coat for the first time and take a little walk around our new neighborhood.

I managed to make every one of Lori's OB/GYN appointments, and on one visit this fall, were are waiting in an exam room for the doctor to come in. I leafed through a Parents magazine, eyeing the pictures of kids dressed for fall, outside amid an autumn setting. I began imagining walking my kids to school during the fall, in a perfect setting as visualized in the magazine. And ... I started tearing up. Our lives were about to change so incredibly, so wonderfully, that all I could do was be overwhelmed in that moment.
That morning, now almost six weeks ago, that I hiked through the conservancy, I was feeling wistful. I missed Madison, and not just the time Lori and I spent there, but the fact we weren't living there with the boys. We did have dreams of staying in Madison and starting our family there, but our goals changed and we landed in Utah -- and we did so with no regrets.

I'm thinking that my overall mood is tied to how smooth or rocky work is going. Leading up to the Madison trip, the previous two months had been rough, so perhaps it was no wonder I was feeling so nostalgic, so missing a place that was special to Lori and me. I spent that walk thinking about the goals I had in Madison -- some that I achieved, and some that remain unfulfilled. The latter were the ones that were bringing me down. We were leaving that day, we only had a couple days of vacation remaining, and it would be back to the grind.

But a funny thing happened once we got back, and especially in the past few weeks -- work settled down, and my outlook brightened, even in the cloudiness and chill of November. I'm not sure what that says on an overall level, but at least it's a reminder that long-term gloom may be nothing more than my work mood at the moment. Again, that might lead to more examination of how to meet the goals that are always evolving; however, it's not, and never is, a reason to look way back.

We left Madison that Sunday via the Beltline, taking the same curve we did 20 years earlier (perhaps almost to the day). This time, we didn't take the Gammon Road exit, though I was tempted. Hopefully, we make it back another autumn to take the boys the another UW football game, maybe to Elver Park for a hike along the cross country ski trails, maybe to Governor Nelson State Park, maybe to the capitol.

Autumn was always about change for me, whether it was many the falls I have written about and several more I didn't. As for 2015, nothing quite changed, but something seemed different. With winter on its way, and then spring and summer and another fall, we'll see where it all leads.


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