I hate fall. Or is it, I love fall? The sight of yellow birch leaves outside my bedroom window makes me weep, so I can’t actually tell if it’s beauty or death that is getting to me. Ruby cotoneaster leaves tighten my heart in exquisite bliss and despair for the loss of them.
The one thing I like about fall is the way the sky is often an overcast grey/blue wash — like someone threw an unstirred pot of paint — and makes the trees pop neon gold against it. That sky reminds me of Saturday afternoons when I was a teen. I’d sometimes make pizza out of a Kraft pizza kit that came in a yellow box. A slim silver tin of sauce, packet of dough (just add water and good luck trying to stretch it over the pan), meagre parmesan sprinkles and flavour from green things in a waxed paper envelope. I never knew what the big deal was about pizza until I got to university. College Inn was down the street from our apartment and their pizza was an inch thick. Spicy, red, cheesy, steaming. Oh, now I get it. Pizza will always remind me of the deep fall days of my student years.
At this time of year you have to find distractions from the sadness. This fall, after a few years of dormancy, I have developed a relapse of baseball fever, but before you accuse me of jumping onto the Blue Jays bandwagon, or even the baseball wagon, I should mention that I come from a family of brothers, and a father, who were passionate about baseball. The feel of the stitching on a cowhide ball is familiar to my hands and I enjoyed playing catch when I was a kid. Sports days and watching baseball were part of my youth.
Fall is baseball. The Boys of October. In high school in the 1970s each of my notebooks had listed on the inside cover the batting lineup of the Cincinnati Reds. It was the era of the Big Red Machine, probably the most outstanding field of players to ever play the game. It was then I learned to love the quiet rhythm of the game, the way it unfolds in its own time, not clock time, pitch by pitch, sometimes in silence while the commentators hold their tongues as the batter swings. Silence just before the thunk of the ball in the catcher’s thick leather mitt. Silence after the pop of a well-hit ball as it soars high over the outfield wall. And then the deafening roar of the crowd.
The players were in the prime of their lives, and my young heart was captivated as much by their beauty as by their athletic prowess.
When the Reds won the World Series in 1975, my Grade 12 year, I was grateful for teachers who would sneak a transistor radio into the classroom and allow us to listen. The teachers might have gotten into trouble had it been widely known, but attuning one’s ear to the poetry of baseball fired the imagination even more than that of Shakespeare.
Thinking about baseball and that Reds team prompted me to look them up online. For one thing, I couldn’t remember the name of the player who pumped his arm when he batted (Joe Morgan). I discovered video footage of a 2013 reunion of that team. The “Great Eight” were introduced and they took to the field during a home game. These 60-something men looked like most of that age: sort of unremarkable, grey-haired, a few pounds heavier and moving a bit more slowly. But there was something beautiful about them too, a bright twinkle of enthusiasm on their faces and something else: they seemed relaxed, not tense. I believe it is one of the benefits of getting older
This fall we have been treated to the fresh intensity of the Toronto Blue Jays in their exciting playoff run — and they are beautiful to behold. But life is beautiful, no matter what one’s season. Like those old Boys of October, some things even improve with age. Pizza, for example. Home-made tomato sauce, fresh mushrooms, some hot peppers, maybe even artichokes, the smell of dough rising in the bowl, mountains of cheese. And a little poetry. Let’s play ball!