You call that the first day of fall – 96 degrees on Sept. 23? Still, the nights get colder and the chill will soon linger into morning.
One of the ways some of us keep track of the seasons and the rhythms is the time for fishing or dove hunting, which turns into deer season and then quail. When not chasing game, sportsmen spend their time theorizing why there are fewer fish, or more fish. Weather changes are the most common reason, they will say. By January, around a wood stove in the middle of a feed store in Texas, the farmers will add a touch of brandy to the morning coffee and ponder why the quail are plentiful or scarce this year.
Many, many years ago one of them blamed a low quail yield on astronaut Neil Armstrong’s summer walk on the moon.
“Hatch looked good as I hayed and then that moonwalk and they were gone.”
Seasonal changes are predictable and routine but it seems that as summer turns to fall, more than any other time, we become reflective.
Summer still is the time of innocence. Leisure, vacations, family time and a break from work. Before you know it school starts, football marks the time of hope and high expectations for Texans of all ages and we settle into the patterns of a new year. The calendar of our life is not January through December. It’s September through August.
There are some archaic and incredibly dumb rules media folks concoct about writing columns for newspapers. Make them like cocktail-party conversations or discussions over dinner with the neighbors, they advise. Stay away from religion, politics, war, abortion, and, today, same-sex marriage. The latter is a new one. Here’s an old one: Avoid a sentence that begins with “I.” Well, I find it encouraging that we have added the timely topic of same-sex marriage to the must-avoid list. It gives me an excuse to break a rule. I support same-sex marriage. There – I violated two column-writing rules in one sentence.
And here are some more “I’s.”
Among the things I turn to at this time of year are thoughts of great dogs I have owned. Some hunted, most did not. All brought me great joy and, when they died, great sorrow. Maybe it’s the funereal quiet and fading light of autumn that summons memories of absent friends and reflections on the end of life.
This year, oddly perhaps, I am thinking about the correlation between animals and human aging. The connection is inspired by an essay, Pastoral Occasion, included in Franklin Burroughs’ book, Billy Watson’s Croker Sack. In the essay Burroughs describes how he’s decided it’s time for his dog, “Jacob,” to die. It’s a story about the harsh realities of old age, the collision of fate and a shared, happy history. Jacob was a loved family member but in old age becomes an irritating burden, sick and pathetic to watch. So, he is euthanized.
Goodbye, Jacob. Over and out. Don’t tell the children.
I’ve been there. We watch our pets decline in humiliating ways and finally decide we must put them out of their misery.
But sometimes there’s a problem – they’re still wagging their tails.
“If they are eating and wagging their tails, they are OK,” says a woman of the woods that I know. She knows dogs better than she knows humans.
But tail-wagging and hearty appetites aside, the dogs are deemed too infirm to live – at least happily, peacefully. Humans then decide it’s time for them to die.
My point? Try this one on for size.
While we don’t put them to sleep, the elderly and infirm in our society are sent to assisted living. Euthanasia is a crime in this country but assisted suicide is increasingly accepted and is legal in several states. If “mercy killing” suddenly were deemed permissible, I suspect there would be no shortage of children ready to decide that their parents’ “quality of life” has declined to the point that they should be “put down.”
In the culture of self-absorption that permeates society today, the dependent elderly might readily be dismissed as an intrusive inconvenience and simply eliminated. People spend more time worrying about pets and refugees from foreign countries than about humans closer to home – starting with their parents.
The autumn equinox has mustered early sunsets and dark musings but all is not grim in this season of harvest moons and falling leaves.
There’s happiness and hope in the reflections. We look ahead and find plentiful examples.
Maybe it’s the promise of another spring, and the budding hope that we will renew our commitment to being, well, better humans. We will look for that next puppy or embrace the joy of watching a new foal take its first wobbly steps. They step into an unknown world. And don’t we all, with each new season, each new year?
Richard Connor is chairman of the parent company of Fort Worth Business, DRC Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.