Changing leaves and sweater weather

Sep. 26, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

It is that wonderful time of year once again where the leaves begin their transformation from earthy greens to golden yellows, deep oranges and bright reds.

It is the beginning of that enjoyable season full of cool evenings and sweater weather.

It is a time when the flavors of pumpkin, apple and cinnamon permeate nearly every food and beverage.

It is finally autumn!

Spending a large portion of my childhood living at the beach in South Carolina, I have become acclimated to scorching summers. And growing up in upstate New York, I am no stranger to harsh, snowy winters and white Christmases.

But anyone who really knows me is aware of my love (maybe at times my obsession) with autumn and everything the season brings with it — the time of year’s characteristics, activities and food.

One of my favorite characteristics of autumn is the changing of the leaves. When my family lived in New York, the leaves changed colors very quickly before falling to the ground.

Once they did fall, my father would spend long afternoons meticulously raking the little leaves into large piles in our backyard. My brothers and I would watch him, sneakily peering around the side of the house and carefully timing our jump into the piles when his back was turned.

We were not helpful leaf gatherers.

Another autumn aspect I enjoy is sweater weather. As the balmy afternoons give way to cooler temperatures, I anticipate rediscovering my comfy sweaters and long-sleeved flannel shirts, as well as my cozy fleece blankets in which to wrap myself in, forming a blanket cocoon.

With autumn comes a plethora of outdoor activities that I look forward to all year long, including carnivals and fairs, bonfires and homecoming, hayrides and trick-or-treating and corn mazes and haunted houses.

In college, I always enjoyed autumn because it meant football games, blazing bonfires for evening pep rallies and the homecoming fall carnival.

I also participated in taking children trick-or-treating around my college campus, which was always a great time. The occasion reminded me of one of my first Halloweens when I was dressed up as a little orange pumpkin. My older brother was a skeleton and my younger brother was an inmate, complete with a plastic ball and chain.

My siblings and I always knew the best neighborhoods to visit and the few houses that gave out baggies full of candy. By the time we arrived home from trick-or-treating, our bags were stuffed to the brim with goodies.

We would then empty the contents of our bags onto the living floor and after our parents inspected our stash, we would swap each other for our favorite candies. I always bartered for the Butterfingers.

Although I no longer participate in trick-or-treating myself, last year I did feel like a kid again when I joined a group of friends for a spooky hayride and corn maze with a haunted house. It was quite frightening to be honest, and I thought we would never make it out of that maze.

Yet my all-time favorite autumn activity is visiting an apple orchard and pumpkin patch. My family and I went apple picking frequently in New York, plucking the fruits from the highest branches and always eating more than we took home.

Apple picking was never complete without a stop by the pumpkin patch to locate the perfect carving pumpkin. Ever since I was little I have enjoyed pumpkin carving and mushing the pumpkin “guts” between my fingers. In fact, the past three years I have embraced my inner child by carving a pumpkin.

Back at the orchard, after packing up our bushels of apples and finding our smooth-faced pumpkins, we would settle down on a bale of hay and enjoy a hot cup of fresh-squeezed apple cider and a warm cinnamon sugar doughnut.

It is one of the best ways to enjoy autumn.

Not to mention all of the delicious fall foods and beverages, from creamy pumpkin spice lattes to homemade white chicken chili to all the fixings and trimmings on Thanksgiving.

And on that note, I am going to find my chunky cable knit sweater, curl up in a blanket with one of those lattes and gaze out upon the changing leaves.