Can it be true? Is there really a blanket of white covering my leaf-strewn yard, or am I just imagining this scene, still half-asleep and hazy as I make my way down the driveway to retrieve the morning paper? I stoop down to touch the frozen ground, thankful to feel not snow, but the icy crystals of first frost.
I notice my next-door neighbor's potted plants, wisely sheltered from the cold under a layer of protective blankets. My own orange and burgundy chrysanthemums, bent from the weight of the frozen dew, look as shocked as I am at this cold snap.
Somehow I am not prepared for this. Can it really be time to get out the kids' heavy coats, boots, and mittens? Can't I revel in autumn's glory for just a bit longer?
"You had better put on a jacket," I warn my third-grader, who rolls her eyes in silent protest before grabbing one and running for the school bus.
It does seem silly, this sudden need for coats and coverings, when just a few weeks before, our family was hiking through Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley National Park, soaking in the sun's rays on a Sunday afternoon when temperatures reached 86 degrees F.
Perhaps we were spoiled by the sunlight reflecting off the maple leaves as we hiked past a thundering waterfall, making our way to a trickling stream. As the girls skipped stones across the rocky streambed, I rested on a sunny perch atop a fallen tree trunk. It was as if a summer day had been dropped on us, smack-dab at the end of autumn. "Who wants an ice cream cone?" I asked when we made our way out of the woods. Soon we were licking cool vanilla soft serve, outsmarting the calendar with a quintessential summertime treat.
But the seasons march forward, much to my dismay. Geese flew overhead, making a big "V," honking endlessly, warning me of winter's impending arrival. Squirrels scurried through the fallen leaves, gathering stashes of acorns. The songbirds, whose incessant music had been keeping me awake at night, shut down their chorus.
I was happy when the garter snakes made their way underground, but their absence causes me to pause: Why is it that I can't seem to welcome winter?
Maybe it's easier for the animals. After all, many get to hibernate, or at least fly south and avoid the nasty lake-effect snowstorms that hit northeastern Ohio each year.
For me, the first frost signals a need for planning. Soon, the holidays will arrive, bringing with them myriad tasks – decorating, shopping, wrapping – enough "extras" to make my head feel as though it's spinning.
"Mark your calendars for our Christmas concert and rehearsal!" the church choir director reminds me, in bold, via e-mail.
"Our troop is going to see 'Nutcracker'!" my eager Girl Scout says as she throws a permission slip my way.
"Can't we have Christmas lights on our house this year?" asks my glitz-loving third-grader, disappointed with my unwillingness to hang ghosts from the trees for Halloween.
The Toys 'R' Us Big Toy Book has arrived, and my girls are circling their favorite Polly Pockets and Care Bears. In about a month, my favorite light-rock radio station will switch to nonstop carols. Do we really need to be listening to "Jingle Bells" while still munching on leftover Halloween candy? Is it any wonder I wish to hibernate, somehow escaping this holiday madness.
Today, though, the late afternoon sun peeks through my kitchen window, teasing me with its radiance. "Let's go play outside," I say.
My girls and I laughingly crunch through the leaves. The pumpkins on the front step smile, perhaps reminding me to enjoy this day and stop worrying about Jack Frost and holiday hassles.
"Who wants to shoot some hoops?" I ask, throwing the basketball to one daughter. I focus on our game, the rhythmic dribble on the concrete, the thrill of a perfectly "swished" free throw.
Zipping my coat, I ignore the crisp air, pretending – if just for today – that autumn's glory won't ever fade into a cool blanket of white.