This is my favorite season, even though it foreshadows my least favorite season. In the mid-1990s, I wrote this essay about a round of golf in autumn and submitted it to a high school writing contest, where it won a prize for descriptive writing. With some modifications to make it (slightly) less cheesy, here it is:
When I teed up last fall for the first time on a weekday afternoon, I expected it to be a depressing experience. After all, golf in the fall signals an ending, a winding down, the last journeys down the rolling fairways before they succumb to the giant white blankets for a few silent months. The golf clubs would soon go into hibernation, submitting to the supreme power of the snowflake.
But on that mild fall day I was pleasantly surprised as I made my way through nine golf holes tucked in the woods, bisected by a stream plodding along one of its final voyages of the year. It was hardly a dreary afternoon, the anticlimactic prelude I had expected to the inevitable winter snows. I realized the difference as I stepped up to the first tee and launched a tiny white globe toward the distant flag, feeling the usual disappointment as it plunged back to the comforts of earth well before reaching its destination. But disappointment would not remain as I glanced to the woods watching me from either side, realizing I was a tiny player in a vast natural arena. The spectators had changed since they last saw me. Their mantle of green had given way to an array of reds, oranges, and yellows, as if the sun itself had been tipped on its side, spilling its fiery contents onto the trees below.
Not all of the recipients remained. Some had wearily floated to the ground, comprising a lush carpet. As I watched, more of them danced down to the ground, their duty this year nearly complete; they patiently awaited winter retirement. The sun listlessly distributed some of its final handouts of the year before it, too, would disappear for the winter, and the branches below eagerly reached up to accept its waning rays.
My thoughts turned back to the tiny white ball that caused my presence here in the first place. It rested comfortably off to the side, among the bordering trees, itself seeming to appreciate the winter preparations and probably disappointed to be scooped away again. I too was sorry to have disturbed the autumn rituals unfolding beside me, and tried all the harder to avoid the neighboring trees while concentrating on another spire in front of me, the one without leaves, the flag planted in the center of a clean patch of emerald, beckoning my golf ball to fly its way.
And so I continued, winding through the vast expanses of well-trampled grass between the quiet woods on either side of me. It was so different now. Over the past few months I, accompanied by the summer heat and a few friends, had traversed these familiar paths many times, but now I may as well have been a pioneer in a virgin forest, as I witnessed the dressings of fire among the trees. My usual companions had left, returned to the familiar activities from which the summer had been an enticing escape, the familiar routines that would soon snatch me away, too, from this serene setting.
So I relished being a part of it, as I examined the shades of fire among the leaves, until I realized I was not actually a part of it. I was an outsider, unable to disguise myself as the surrounding scene was doing. I was rejected, silently commanded by the falling leaves to put away my toys now, return to that from which this was an escape, to come again next year to see what it had in store, when a new annual routine would play out in these familiar woods.
I surprised myself by enjoying that afternoon. I did feel some of the emptiness that foreshadowed the winter to come, the loneliness of a natural setting preparing for winter, undressing and laying itself down for a snowy slumber. But I learned that golf in the fall was still enriching, a necessary final stage of an annual cycle that included more than just the spring and summer. I pondered this as I exited the autumn stage that day. Soon the cold winds and showers of white would forget the fiery leaves and green grass, burying it all indiscriminately.
I peered out my window often this winter. I missed my routine trips to the golf course, but was reminded and edified by my autumn endeavor that winter, too, was just a season. Soon it also would give way to a successor, as spring rains would dissolve the white blankets. Soon the journey would begin again toward autumn.