Note: I grew up in Wisconsin, one of the colder places in the United States.
Fall used to mean the beginning of the end.
As the mercury began to drop and the days began to shrink, it was a slow, steady countdown to the abominable winter that always awaited us.
For me, the leaves changing colors used to be the first signs of death. I always used to cringe upon opening the closet to look for my jacket and would curse in vain having to scrape the ice off my windshield.
The end of my high school football season was always a blessing in disguise, as it signaled the end of my required outdoor activities for the year. Winter was coming. Long johns, fires, lip balm, snow shovels… ugh.
To me, fall was just a little tease from winter, sprinkling in enough nice days with enough terrible days to remind us of the ever-approaching deep freeze. Even with the beginning of the holiday season and the weekly meetings around the TV to cheer on the Badgers or Packers, I always felt an emptiness, knowing these would be short-lived highs as there was no turning back the clock on old man winter.
But then I moved to Costa Rica.
It was never about the weather, of course; I wanted culture, language and sights. And living in a tropical climate was just a bonus.
Now that I live here year-round, I have developed an “outside looking in” perspective, and what I’ve realized is that if you take winter out of the equation, fall becomes the greatest cheesehead season there is.
Not only is it a nice buffer between my favorite and least-favorite seasons, it has so many traditions attached to those subtle changes in the weather and carries so many childhood memories.
And that makes me a little jealous sitting on the sidelines in Costa Rica.
Living in Costa Rica has meant more or less the same weather every day. Consistently good and tropical with the occasional rain.
That is good enough for me to brag to friends and family that 75 percent of the year, the weather is better than in Wisconsin. For the other 25 percent, it’s not that the weather in Costa Rica gets worse, but rather the lack of fall.
Umbrella or no umbrella is the only change you’ll recognize here, and the monotony of that, to an experienced snow-shoveler, takes some time getting used to. When it is fall up north, it is the heart of the rainy season here. It is not by any means an apocalypse, but we receive heavy thunderstorms almost daily and the roads deteriorate faster than a stick of butter on an open stove.
I can’t complain about the heat and sun, but I do miss the climatic and environmental changes, along with the traditions of fall.
Every fall my biological clock gets flipped on its head. I don’t know what is more awkward, trick-or-treating in shorts or eating turkey without a wearing a sweater vest. The other day, I helped put Christmas ornaments on a palm tree.
Yes, a palm tree.
And Monday Night Football en Español? Well let’s just say I would rather watch the game on mute than learn how to say (much less explain), “intentional grounding,” in Spanish. Ex-pats have tried to bring fall traditions with them to Costa Rica and as much as they try, they just can’t be replicated.
I’ve stopped trying and am now figuring out how to fill the void. I think that’s part of the problem.
Nothing of great nature happens from September through November. Many people are flat broke from summer vacations and are trying to save money for the Christmas season. By law, they are required to receive a year-end bonus, but that doesn’t get paid until December.
There is also a lot of anticipation for the rains to end so the harvest season can begin and resupply the world with fresh coffee. Needless to say, there is a lot to think about during those rainy afternoons.
Once a sign of death, the beautiful September foliage now paints every hillside in my imagination. Grabbing that jacket from the deep ends of the closet? Duh, it’s gotta be football season. Scraping the ice off the windshield? At least I won’t have to mow the lawn anymore this year.
Maybe it’s easier to see the brighter side of fall knowing that I won’t be there for the ensuing deep freeze.
Last year my timing was perfect. I got to spend the better part of October and November in Wisconsin, and I felt shame. Like a corrupt politician splurging on a yacht with taxpayer money. The day before I headed back to Costa Rica, we received our first substantial snowfall of the year.
The pre-Costa Rica Dustin would have rolled over in bed and willed a profound sleep until May, but this year I was content as ever. I could have been the first one out making snow angels.
With old man Winter out of the way, I could finally embrace fall and usher in the onset of winter.