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The subtle season falls on Florida by degree

In our house, we have a poem to memorize for first-grade homework. The poem, author unknown, is called The Acorn Man:

I met a little acorn man

Just fallen from a tree.

I picked him up, he wasn't really

Hurt that I could see.

So it isn't William Butler Yeats or Dylan Thomas. But it has its own appeal.

I look at the words on the page my daughter brought home from school and they revive every memory I have of going back to school right after Labor Day and how my return coincided with the return of fall. Certain things are inextricably linked with these days.

I think of new school shoes with their leathery smell, unscuffed and perfectly nested in their box. The way the color of my clothes changed to match the shifting color of the landscape, from summer's sky-colored pastels to brown and gray, dark blue and rust. How we called the beginning of autumn's chill "sweater weather." And how much fun I had running down a hill on a Saturday afternoon and throwing myself into a pile of neatly raked leaves that were ready for burning.

Here in Florida we do our best to herald autumn. We celebrate with cheerful observations by forecasters about even the slightest deviations in the temperature, as if they are arctic blasts. How grateful we are.

It's true that when I opened the back door to let the dog out early in the morning this week, I was greeted by a welcome puff of cool air. But how long will it last? Hurricane Jeanne bears down on the east coast. Storm season lasts through November. As long as it does, I'm not prepared to say summer is over.

I don't mean to be a contrarian over what seems to be a simple thing. But frankly, that cool air at the back door isn't enough. This is the time of year when I am caught up in homesickness, when I almost regret moving to Florida. Fall in the north is the richest time of year.

Fall up north is watching birds in formation head south. It's being able to almost sense the cold coming, as the temperature, day by day, drops. It's leather gloves and knee-high boots. It's enough delight to make you forget what's ahead, the sleet, the knife-sharp wind, the snow piled high on the stoop that makes people swear that as soon as they can, they're moving to Florida.

The holidays come swiftly once autumn arrives, dropping like a roller coaster after summer's slow crawl. They too seem out of synch with autumn in Florida.

Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are cold weather celebrations. Here, faces steam beneath Halloween's rubbery masks. We rarely see Thanksgiving's color scheme of burnt orange and brown. There is nothing so foreign in Florida as the frosted windows of a Christmas decoration.

Before you tell me to go back where I came from, I'll quickly acknowledge the attractive attributes of this subtle season we've just begun. I'm reminded that life, hurricanes notwithstanding, is just less trouble here. Even when I'm blue, the sun can lift my spirits.

Come fall, my electric bill shrinks. As for the dog, he'll soon stop lying about and panting on the cool tile of the bathroom floor. What could be a better barometer of the change in the weather?

The poem my first-grader has to memorize has only two stanzas. The second one continues to talk about that acorn man who fell out of the tree.

He brushed his jacket off and said,

"I am not hurt at all.

For by the time the summer goes,

I'm ready for the fall."

Well, the summer is gone, and I'm more than ready. I want the daylight to be cheerful but less brash. I've got a glass of iced tea in my hand and dreams of hot tea in my head. I want that chill the weather man talks about to do more than come and go. I want it to just plain stay.

You can reach Mary Jo Melone at mjmelonesptimes.com or (813) 226-3402.

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