Columns 2000


In my 53 years of life, I’ve only ever experienced 25 fall seasons.  Due to acute hay fever as a child, most of those autumns were times of misery.  Starting in July, I would go to my friendly allergist twice a week to get injections and have my sinuses drained. Dr. Dittenfass was the allergist’s name and he tried his best to be gentle and caring. But I could just never warm to someone coming at me to stick sharp metal rods up my nose.

What I remember about autumn back east is not being able to breathe. I remember being so sick that my family couldn’t even take me on the drive to Philadelphia from Atlantic City because the wind blowing in the open car windows would trigger something akin to an asthma attack. I remember the stifling heat making me feel as though I would never be able to take a deep breath again because with every breath I took came a sneeze. My eyes watered constantly, my nose ran like a river and I never thought anything or anyone in this world could possibly be as miserable as I was right then. It was a spectacularly uncomfortable time in my life.

I often think that part of what kept me on the North Slope was the fact that autumn was never really a season there. Anything that begins and ends in about two days – at best – can’t really be called a season.  One day you’d be walking on the tundra and it would be a deep and luxurious green. The next day you’d go back and it was suddenly full of reds and russets.  Usually it snowed a few days later.  And that was autumn on the North Slope. 

I’d occasionally get an itchy nose. I might sneeze a few times if the wind was blowing from the right direction and dropping pollen on me from the Black Forest in Germany.  At least, that’s the forest I always blamed. I don’t know why but it was convenient.

Coming down to Anchorage, I obsessed over whether my allergies would reappear after almost three decades underground.  I know treatment has probably improved since I last saw a doctor for this condition, but that didn’t help the dread that arose in me at the through of those metal rods up my nose.

But here it is, the end of the fall, and I haven’t had much more of a reaction than a stuffy nose.  I walk in my yard inhaling deeply and don’t sneeze. For the first time in my life I am enjoying fall, watching the leaves changing colors and seeing it through non-watery eyes.  The bad part is that what seems to have happened is that my sister and I exchanged personas. In her middle age she has developed tremendous allergies and must sneeze her way through spring and fall. And we won’t even discuss what happens to her if she gets near a cat.

My only real problem at this point is that the Barrowite in me has this uncontrollable urge to go dig up all the plants and trees in my yard and bring them inside for the winter.  It just seems wrong that they can survive the cold outside and bloom again in spring.  It seems even odder that they can survive the dark season without a grow light.  I’ve thought of installing grow lights in my outdoor sockets but saner heads have prevailed.  I imagine that come spring, when I see life re-emerging in my yard, I will finally believe that my trees can survive the winter without me. 

Now the only real question is whether I can survive a winter in which the sun rises every day even in December and January.  That might be a little harder for me to take.  It’s just seems so downright unnatural.