The State Fair — and the free-floating days of summer — suspend the laws of gravitas and growing up.

Then comes the fall.


It happens when we’ve pawed to the bottom of the oil-stained bag — grasping for the last, gritty-sweet morsel of mini-doughnut. We’ve shuffled through the final exhibit of handiwork and horticulture. Cast eyes skyward for one final vertiginous view of the human slingshot, suspended heels overhead.

With a parting glance at the lurid blur of the midway — thrill-seekers’ screams still ringing in our ears — we renounce high-season hedonism. The fair and fair weather have come to an end.

After the gluttony and giddy excess, a formal feeling comes. A chill, a chastening. We are children, caught out after curfew. We are reminded of the price of pleasure.

Summer’s end is childhood’s end, my melancholy friend. And, as the song says, “the time has come for opening books, and long last looks must end.” Time to pull on long pants and surrender to a new season.

The fall after the fair is our return to grace. Like adulthood, it feels harsh and unfair. But also, a relief.

“Autumnal” is a word that curls in on itself, as we mammals soon will do. Even the bees know what’s to come.

They sense the dwindling of the sweetest season. After months flitting from flower to flower, with nectar stores in short supply and a queen to fatten for winter, they don’t hover, but dart in mean, manic angles.

Summer’s slouch is over. Our patch of Earth has straightened and sobered. We northern neighbors face our nearest star more squarely now, reclaiming our own equilibrium. Our tilted ride is over.

The very air acquires a pensive, reflective quality. We hew inward. We tuck into turtlenecks and peer anxiously outward.

On an end-of-summer walk, I lock eyes with a rangy red fox. Driving to work on a chilly morning, the sound of my car interrupts a young boy at play. He looks up and regards me as interloper; yet in that moment we are cold comrades sharing the season’s first shiver.

Now we take our seats in classrooms and cars — behind glass, behind bars. We become watchful as trees — but we remember. Summer’s ghost has just passed, but we’re wistful already for the soft air, the soft sway of time and the brush of others’ sun-warmed skin.

But what would be the state of our souls if we lived in a state of perennial summer? Its fruits would never be so sweet if we knew no end was near.

And so we take cold comfort in knowing that, in a few short months, when the Earth tilts again, today’s indulgences will be wiped clean, too. The absolution of snow.


Deborah Malmo is a writer working in Minneapolis.