Category Archives: September

Fall Semester 2017

I know people who love fall (Gina!), and though it’s not my favorite season (summer!), it ranks as number two for me. As we move through August, into September, we are in that season between seasons. Wasps remind us that winter is coming and will kill all those annoying insects for a few months’ reprieve. Trees begin to turn, the tops usually start first, just a few golden leaves then gradually more. The mornings…have you noticed? This morning was unusually cool, close to 50 degrees when I rose, too cool to run in my usual tank top; I wore sleeves. No one in western Montana can escape the smoke right now, which is also an indication of fall, at least over the last several years. And if you’re a teacher…well, you’re only too aware that summer is coming to an end. One of the first questions I get from teacher-friends is “are you ready?” It’s a silly question; I’m not ready and never will be, but this fall, for me, is different.

My dad’s birthday was September 1st; this is the first one since I’ve been alive that he won’t be. If you’ve lost a parent or someone very close to you, you understand the “firsts” that occur throughout the year that follows the loss. This is the first birthday; in June was the first Father’s Day. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, my sisters’ and my birthdays, Mother’s Day, their anniversary, all of those passed during this first year, too. This year will be the first Halloween, the day he died, one year ago. My sister, Terri, always loved Halloween more than almost any holiday. I wonder how she’ll experience this coming one.

It seems cliché; my relationship with my father was strained, and now I regret that. Of course, I do. That’s how it works, and I’m not special. Many people before me have experienced the same thing, which is why it’s cliché. We like to believe we’re an evolved species, but I wonder about that. Even when we know better, we continue to make the same mistakes. It’s a form of hubris, I think, a very common human foible. Each of us believes we are the exception somehow.

I enter the fall semester of 2017 with trepidation. Last fall was one of my worst, personally, and one my best, professionally. I hate to think that one precludes the other, but it seemed to work that way. Aside from the fact that my dad is gone, I enter fall semester as an unmarried woman, the first time in twenty-four years. Nearly all of my personal relationships have undergone significant change; some didn’t survive my divorce, some resulted from my divorce, and some are still in transition. In many ways, I’m a different woman than the one who returned to campus for convocation 2016. I hope I’m not hardened; I hope I’m still the Pollyanna optimist I’ve always been, but I’m not sure…

I struggled after Dad died, and the memorial ceremony was one of my worst experiences. My marriage was crumbling, my dad had died unexpectedly, and emotionally, I was a wreck. I survived it, but that was all. Since I don’t live close, I was not there when his cremains were installed in the cemetery, and though I’d been to Billings several times, I never stopped at the cemetery. I thought about it; I wanted to, but I didn’t, until Sunday.

Mark and I went to Billings for a party to celebrate my sister Julie’s new firepit. I told him before we left that I wanted to stop in Laurel and see my dad’s final resting place. On the way home, I got involved in a phone call and forgot my plans (I wonder…), but Mark didn’t. He turned off in Laurel and found his way to the cemetery where we located my dad. It was August 6th, so nine months plus after he’d died. I guess that’s how long it took me to be ready, and I’m not going to apologize for that. To whom would I apologize anyway? Like many other examples I could conjure, I’m frequently late in my ability to make sense of things; I’m a pretty smart person, but sometimes it takes me a while to process.

A few years ago, my dad started playing on the internet. Soon, he discovered memes and “fake news,” which annoyed the living hell out of me. Political opposites, I finally told him to stop sending me that shit, which to his credit, he did. Occasionally, he’d send me something he thought I’d enjoy, and one email message he sent me remains in my “inbox,” and I revisit it from time to time. It’s incredibly emotional for me because I love Andre’ Rieu, I love strings, I love this song, and I loved my dad. See if you can get through it without tears; I can’t.

Fall semester 2017 is coming, like it or not. I guess I need to get ready.


Glacier National Park has had a record-breaking year based on the number of tourists visiting this last summer. I was one of those tourists back in August, and I took advantage of the trails system, logging many thousands of steps and breathing in clean air and summertime scents. Yesterday, I walked the trail near my house in Montana City, appreciating the fall sights and sounds and thinking about our distinct seasons. While summer is my favorite season, September is my favorite month, the crown jewel of Montana’s calendar.

September has so many things going for it, including and especially the fall weather. I love summer, and for me, the hotter, the better, but only if I’m able to be out in it. If I have to do adult things, like work and wear closed-toe shoes, then September is perfect. It’s cool enough to be comfortable with a light jacket or sweater, but rarely is September cold. The changing weather brings with it the smells of fall harvests and the colors of changing vegetation. I’ve never been to the east coast during the fall, but I can’t imagine it could be much better than Montana in September. I have a quaking aspen tree in my yard, and the changing colors, bright yellow, orange, and red against the white bark and blue sky are magnificent. The late afternoon sun warms everything perfectly, and a light breeze blows leaves and fall debris down the trail.

The sun in September is warm, and though our hemisphere is moving further from it, it appears huge, especially in the morning when it rises in the east. During fire season, and sometimes even with no fires, the sun will take on a reddish-golden hue, a warm, comforting color. At the same time, the moon appears larger than ever, too, and fall evenings feel like they’ll last for hours. Darkness comes earlier than before, but there remains enough evening to watch the sunset and appreciate its beauty.

That’s another thing about September that I love: it’s a slow month. One of the months with 31 days, September seems to take longer than even that. Everyone is finally back at work, back at school, and vacations are over, and the summer—with its fast pace and frenetic activities—is only a fond memory. September lets us slow down a little and savor the hard work and hard play of summer months before we too soon enter holiday season followed by a new year. September helps us pause and reflect on our progress in a year that was just recently new.

Despite being a pacifist, I happily watch disoriented wasps fly around seeking mischief, knowing that their days are numbered and the myriad other creepy-crawly things that share our world will return to their winter hideaways. Birds begin to flock, sometimes great numbers of blackbirds or others taking up residence in a yard or field during the evening hours, and it’s fascinating to think about the communication and navigation skills of birds that migrate south for the winter. Unlike the first robin of spring, I never know when I’ve seen the last robin of fall, and I like it that way.

Other months have glitz, like Christmas in December, New Year’s Day in January, and Valentine’s Day in February, and some months offer hope, like March, April, and May. The summer months offer long days and warm nights and lots of reasons for summer parties, but September is the month of respite and reflection, leading into preparations for the cold months to come and the quickly approaching holiday season. Solid and consistent, not flashy or showy, September is nonetheless Montana’s month of sublimity. It doesn’t get any better than this.