Monday, September 22, 2008

Humor Me: Welcome to autumn in Texas

By MATT WIXON

It's the first day of fall, the season of crisp mornings, nippy evenings and colorful leaves crunching beneath your feet. The long, hot summer is over, and the change of seasons can be felt in every chilly breeze in North Texas.

But close the refrigerator door, would you? Even the excitement of autumn's arrival isn't worth the chilling reality of a whopping energy bill. It's better to wait for Mother Nature's frosty breeze, which should arrive in Texas any minute now.

Or in a day or two. Or a week. Or perhaps by early October, a month in which the Dallas temperature once reached 106.

It's hard to complain about this year's September temperatures, but autumn's
arrival here is much different than in Minneapolis, Chicago or Denver, which had more than an inch of snowfall on this day back in 2000. That same day in North Texas, the temperature hit 96.

That's 10 degrees warmer than normal, but 86 won't send anyone
scurrying for the long johns. It's nothing like the 16-degree welcome to fall in Bondurant, Wyo.. a few years ago. Residents there are bracing for the hard freeze as North Texans welcome -- and on some days, plead for -- a soft breeze.

Residents of cold-weather capitals are pulling out rakes to clean up falling leaves, while in Texas, the crunching beneath our feet isn't from the colorful signs of autumn. It's just burnt grass, crispy from the sun.

In Massachusetts today, dogs, perhaps wearing sweaters, will chase squirrels
gathering acorns for the frigid months ahead. In North Texas, dogs will give up the chase when they trip over their panting tongues. Later in the day, a New Hampshire resident will begin thinking of her wardrobe in layers - the "wicking," "insulating" and "protection" layers that cold-weather warriors know well. Around here, insulating still refers to keeping the heat out of your home. Protection means sunblock and mosquito repellent.

Wicking? Well, it sounds a lot like wicker, as in a wicker chair on a patio. And today, the official first step in the march toward sad winter skies and happy holidays, some Texan will be lounging on a wicker chair, sipping iced tea while wearing Bermuda shorts, sandals and a Hawaiian shirt.

That's the start of fall in Texas. On autumn's inauguration, we're more likely to see sand volleyball games than sand trucks dealing with a wintry storm. We'll see barbecues smoking in back yards rather than chimneys puffing smoke. And while frost warnings are a possibility in colder parts of the country, the first-day-of-fall frost warning for North Texans goes something like this:

If you can't feel your fingers anymore, stop digging in the ice chest for the last beer.

Texas' most traditional sign of fall is football season, and that's obviously here. But it's not like in Chicago, where Bears fans -- hopefully, only the men -- are preparing to show their pride by ignoring frigid temperatures and painting their chests to cheer at the Bears' home field. Cowboys fans might also go shirtless, partly to show their spirit, partly because Texas Stadium has no air conditioning.

But while Texas doesn't have many of the traditional signs of fall, we can sense the season's arrival. We hear the home's AC unit click off occasionally. The lawn takes more than two weeks to go from manicured to knee-tickling. And the sun takes 10 minutes longer to bond melted lip balm to pennies on a car dashboard.

Texans also begin adapting to the changing conditions. For example, the 80-degree wind chills remind locals to bring a T-shirt or light coverup to throw on after getting out of the pool. You'll also see many North Texans sipping their frozen margaritas outside these days, taking advantage of the improving weather and escaping
the chilly temperatures found in many restaurants.

It's far less traditional than leaves changing colors and geese flying south, but it's not so bad to be nontraditional. The traditional winter, the one feared by those who cackled when the temperature hit 106 here this year, brings snow and ice in a seemingly endless cycle. A cycle that is just around the corner.

As for us, the long, hot summer is over. Autumn is here, and it's the season to celebrate, because the ice will soon be here.

Would you prefer cubed or crushed in your lemonade?

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