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It’s Not a Phase, Mom, It’s a Season

Once the heat slowly fades away and the cold starts nipping at my nose, I know that autumn has begun, despite what the calendar might say. Even when the weather doesn’t come soon enough, September comes and we all break out our jeans and leggings. (Unless you’re the kind of person who ignores all seasons and wears shorts into winter, you do you.)  

With the warm clothing and feeling of the debatably best holiday (Halloween) nearing, dark fall colors come out too. Bright summer colors and florals fade into black and maroon layers and dark lipsticks. Here’s the season to express a darker aesthetic without your parents thinking you’re starting a goth phase in college. 

Faux-goth aesthetics are also perfect for farms and fall festivals, day and night. For me, autumn isn’t complete without the fall festival at Fairfax’s Cox Farms. Pumpkins outnumber the crowds of people, from huge orange beasts to cute tiny ones. In the day, kids run across the colorful leaves and fallen hay, racing to feed the goats and other farm animals. The smell of homemade BBQ and fresh caramel corn wafts around the corn fields, slides, and country bands.  

When the family hay rides and BBQ end, the sun goes down, the bonfires are lit, and the farm becomes its own Halloween paradise. Festive teens and adults fill the now “haunted” trails and corn mazes. Peaceful hayrides now swerve around the fields to avoid sprinting zombies in the dark.  

After letting volunteers scare and stalk people around the farm, each bonfire is surrounded by people taking shelter from the chilly air. The festival also isn’t complete before we fill up on the warm fall-fuel of fresh cider and at least a dozen apple cider donuts. Once we’re warm enough, my friends and I take advantage of the silly photo-opps and dance to Cotton Eye Jo on the lit-up dance floor.  

At the end of the night, my friends drag me out of the peak of my favorite season, but not before I grab as many apple cider donuts, bags of caramel corn, and tiny pumpkins as my arms can hold.  

In N.C.

 Fall only happens in Corolla. It’s when I smell sea salt; it comes to me in gusts of wind and kisses my hair. I go there when I’m cooking, when I smell stuffing and when the leaves turn brown and embrace the ground from where they grew. Sea salt means autumn, which means Ocean Arch in Corolla. 

 It’s a different kind of beach there, one with lighthouses and rowboats, with duck-hunting marshes and humble folks. The sky is grey and bursts with storm– the water putters and smacks and sinks into the sand. Fall is a muddy beach.  

 It’s where my grandma sips dry champagne by the window and deals blue playing cards. It’s where my father pours me watered down Merlot and where my mother brushes strands of hair from my face, hardened with sea salt.  

 I learned to drive on the two lane roads in the pouring rain, squeezing the wheel as I accelerate to 45. Fall is an empty road in Corolla.  

 Corolla has always been the perfect place to run and hide– the seafoam piles up and up until the beach is a cloud and everyone is floating and enveloped in its moisture.  

 It’s where my cousin and I curled up on a couch as children to watch “A Haunting.” Corolla is the place where, in soggy salt and sand, we grew up.  

 I can smell the briny air on bridges and highways– seeing water for the first time in months, breathing in the sun’s tinge as it sets on the bay, the minutes withering away between me and Corolla, everything I know and have ever known waiting for me past the pastel stilted houses and brush.  

 Four years, 240 miles, and no swimsuit. The mountains shrink in the Appalachia when I drive to Corolla. The mountains shrink in the fall.

Fall Feelings

This school year was the first year I felt unprepared to go back to school. I was enjoying the sun beating down on me every day, and the lack of papers I needed to write. I’ve always been someone who was ready to get back into the swing of the semester, but this year, I was dragging my feet to restart. I spent my summer abroad in Ireland, and visiting family and friends. Going back to school seemed like my fun was ending. That being said, being back on campus, and feeling the air around me grow cooler, I await the change of the season excitedly. I can’t wait for the trees to burst with color and for the endless events that seem to emerge during this time, like football games, bonfires, and Halloween.

Some love the blistering heat, and others enjoy watching the snow fall, but my happy medium comes from the beautiful balance between the two extremes. Beginning a new season means the start of a new wardrobe. A wardrobe with layers. The endless options of scarves and boots and long-sleeved shirts are among us. It also means legging-season for many JMU girls, myself included. Comfort is the best way to enjoy this season. Having the temperature drop also means a substantially decreased amount of back sweat after all of the walking students do on campus.

Although the three beautiful months of summer included no homework and a lack of responsibilities, fall is the time to get back together with good friends and enjoy another wonderful year at school. I have so many great times to think back on because of hanging with friends on the JMU campus. There are so many events that take place when school is back in session and it’s a fun way to meet new people and make new friends. The nostalgia wrapped in the season of fall brings back fond memories and makes room for new ones to prosper.

Snowfall will be coming soon on the heels of autumn—white, and beautiful over campus.  As the nights begin to darken quickly, I will snuggle into my bed as the air outside grows crisp; happy with the wonderful medium between too hot and too cold. To watch the incoming freshmen take in what has become my home, and to enjoy this campus alongside them is something I look forward to. This is my last year at this school, and I want to enjoy every changing minute of it.

Technology and Design, Tommy Koehler

A genie grants me three tiny wishes. What are they?

Well, firstly I’d have to ask my genie what they were doing inside my electric kettle, as that’s the closest thing to a magic, golden lamp that I currently have in my college apartment. After hearing their tale of woe about how they were trapped inside my electric kettle by an evil kettle scale-r (see “limescaling” that gross white stuff that collects on the inside of your kettle for no apparent reason even though you washed it) a few years ago, I would then begin to think about my first wish.

Now I don’t want to brag, but I’m pretty up-to-date with my cautionary tale reading about magical beings. I know the rules about wish making: that you get punished for exhibiting the seven deadly sins, that you must have exact wording, and that you can’t wish anyone to fall in love with anyone else. So, with that in mind I would introduce my genie to the wonder of modern TV streaming capabilities, aka Netflix bingeing as I pondered my predicament.

The real struggle here is figuring out how good of a human I am. Is my first and only wish to set them free? Obviously my last wish will be to set them free, but is that enough to solidify my status as a Good Person? The point in mythology and literature is for the genie to tempt the character either into darkness or to reveal their internal light, as most fantasy creatures do in their various plot structures. And, it is so tempting.

I could wish for my family never to be sick again, and heal my dad and I, along with preventing anything happening to my mom and sisters in one fell swoop. But what if this means that everyone I ever love outside my family is constantly plagued with sickness and disease?

I could wish to be able to lose weight just by thinking about it, but I am always thinking about making myself thinner. So what if this one day just leads me to disappearing in a puff of flesh colored smoke never to be seen again?

I know better than to wish for money, no matter how much easier that would make my life, so I’m safe on that front. So the real question still is there, laying across the roadmap of my thoughts like guilty road kill: Do I set the genie free with my first or third wish? Do I continue on with the narrative of my life and form my own character arcs, twistsnd falls? Or do I chance fate and seize this apparent easy pass to my deepest flaws?

 

I set the genie free.

 

I have no wishes, only a smile in a shower of stars as the genie leaves my bedroom through my open window.

I of course, still hold those unspent wishes close to my heart, yearning for something to have a magical fix. But life, family, money, self-love – those things aren’t easy. They aren’t a gentle reward to moving across the “Pass Go, Collect $200” spot on the great monopoly board of life (get it, I put TWO board game references in one heartfelt metaphor), they are the ultimate goals of this humanly existence. There is a reason that all those famous fantasy novels (r.e. “The Lord of the Rings,” I’m looking at you Tolkien, a bazillion pages of walking, we get it) are based around long journeys. We need those long struggles to crack like geodes and reveal our truest and most beautiful inner character.

So set the genie free on the first wish, and maybe you’ll get a bit of extra luck here and there from your multi-dimensional mythological friend along your great tourist adventure of life.

My King

 

During the summer after my junior year of high school, I went on a ten-day mission trip to Oradea, Romania with dozens of other teenagers to host Vacation Bible Schools (VBS) in Romani villages scattered along the outskirts of the city. As we trained at the Global Expeditions base camp in Texas, practiced Romanian words, and finally flew over the Atlantic Ocean, the expectation that we were being sent to help people in poverty grew.

After stepping off the bus that transported us from a Hungarian airport, our team turned to face rolling hills and a local church, Biserica de Hristos, confident that we would bring hope to the natives. Chanting songs and practicing various parts of our VBS, we re-assured one another that we were “world-changers.”

Until we went to Tinka.

As the poorest Romani village, Tinka sprawled across acres of trash and human waste. Songs shriveled in our throats when we witnessed a young woman stick her hand down her throat, throw up, and then eat her vomit out of hunger. Suddenly, our skits seemed foolish and our trinkets, trivial. We performed anyway and prayed with excruciating humility that our insignificant efforts would make a difference. But playing with the kids and exchanging broken Romanian with their parents only exposed our inability to really help them. Amidst trees that formed a canopy of brilliant green over rickety shacks constructed from metal scraps and bamboo, we discovered our own inner poverty.

A few days after visiting Tinka, we stood on the summit of Mushroom Top Mountain and lifted our hands over red tiled rooftops and crystal skies. Stretching our bodies toward a Spirit that whispered with the wind, we wept at the realization that Someone could already save them – and He wanted to save us too.

Jesus didn’t come to rescue us with petty programs or lofty speeches. He came as a human, for humans. He came with compassion so scandalous that kings and religious leaders tried to suppress him, his own people discriminated against him, and we murdered him. But death could not defeat him, and he spread himself across the trash and human waste of our lives and offered his life for our freedom.

As I stood on Mushroom Top Mountain, Oradea gleaming in afternoon light, I felt God’s faithfulness in the sky, in the people around me, in the plan I knew He had for my life. The profound love I experienced in that moment set me free from my own poverty.

The following poem speaks of this fundamental transformation, which renews my hope each passing day:

There is a crown within this earthquake –

A glazed, glinting headdress

Golden as a yoke.

Break the egg

Tear down the mountain

There is a crown within this earthquake.

Sanctuaries are shattered and dead

Hands pull back the curtain

No rip it to shreds

From top to bottom

Expose open air to the holy of holies

Where no man should go

Without a rope wrapped around his ankle

And bells to clink and clank and signal

Yes you are alive and still walking.

Go to the tomb, I tell you

Gritty bits of rock and jewels lace the mouth

Open in after-shock, shaken and empty.

Murky chamber, peer in: For the man

Is not here. He left only linens

From his two-night stand with sour sponges and satan

Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani?

Raise a hand and touch the scars seared with

Nails gnawing at flesh, pound them deep for

My King: He is not here.

 

Narrative of Luck  

I think people get lucky in odd ways. In little ways, big ways, round-about and upside-down ways that have us thinking we aren’t that lucky after all. There’s luck here, in the small spaces that surround people. I count myself lucky to see the crow’s feet that line the edges of my mother’s eyes when she smiles at my father while she thinks no one is looking, or in the exact angle of how my best friend always tilts her head back to laugh.

To find this innate luck in the intrinsic connection of humanity may be cliche, but I find that when the week piles up and I can’t see my own hands for the amount of work and stress I’m buried in that it is the way I feel the most lucky. These are the glimmering gold coin gifts that seem to keep falling into my lap and kept in a pocket to pull out when a dash of luck seems most needed. My favorite kind of luck is something that happens to me rarely during the sprint to the end of the semester, but is welcomed with open arms when it arrives. Sometimes, if I sit in the quiet of my room, with the dusk falling over the mountains in soft pastel waves casting an easy light on my keyboard, I can just about hear the shape of a poem.

There might be the lower sounds of consonance beating rhythmic drums to push the narrative forward, and ever onward, or perhaps the softer sibilant softly gentle culmination of sounds. But eventually, resolutely, I will be lucky enough that the screen will be filled. The hated black-blinking cursor on a white Word document will be preceded by artfully disordered-order in which a story unfolds. And who are we all really but storytellers? I count among my luckiest of days those when I can capture the faint strains of something that feels necessary. Something that pushes, at least, my own idea of how I relate to the world around me and how that pushes my own narrative.

So luck, small or large, whether it be winning the lottery or writing a poem that may never leave the inside of my computer hard drive, is another thing for me to be grateful for.

A Lucky “Brake”

Silhouettes of trees and sprawling fields swept past us as we sped along a back road in Amelia, Virginia. The last purple and blue shades of twilight sunk into the night sky, and darkness settled on the landscape around us. Desiray’s royal blue Camry whipped gracefully around each bend as we neared a local gas station.

We were seniors in high school with nothing better to do on a sticky summer night than lay on Desiray’s couch or raid the nearest store of soda. Undaunted by our isolation in middle of cow-county nowhere, we hopped into her car and pulled out of their long gravel driveway onto the two-lane road. Windows rolled down, we stroked the rushing air with our fingers spread wide as we sang into the darkened woods.

After running in and out of the gas station for our drinks, we swung back onto the country road in the direction of her house. Antsy from the lack of adrenaline, I asked Desiray to roll her sunroof down. “I’m gonna stand out of it,” I said.

She laughed, clicked the button and a panel of glass slid open exposing roaring wind and the moon glistening through low-hanging tree branches.

As I pulled the majority of my body outside the sunroof and mounted my legs inside her car, Desiray picked up speed – 35 mph, 40 mph, 50 mph. The air no longer felt crisp and inviting as it shoved against my torso, yanked at my clothes, and brought numbing tears streaming down my face. Shrieks and songs shriveled in my throat, and I swayed there, arms outstretched, speechless in horror and vicious delight.

“Sit down,” a firm voice in my head whispered.

I glanced again at the black road stretching to meet us like the gaping mouth of a snake and slipped back into the front seat. Seconds after clicking my seatbelt, Desiray slammed the brake as a deer leapt directly in front of the car. Anti-lock brakes jolting, we flung forward, and time halted as we seemed to float for a moment, vaguely clutching at the dashboard.

A minute later, the deer had darted back into the forest, but we sat in her motionless car panting, unable to look at each other.

“If I had still been standing out the sunroof…” An image clouded my mind as I pictured my body crumpled and wet with blood on a country road in front of my best friend’s car, a wild animal bounding into the nearby woods.

Desiray gulped for air. “A voice, a voice told me you needed to sit down.” The white of her eyes reflected hazy moonlight.

I looked over at her. “Me too.”

In silence, we made our way back to her house astounded by a stroke of luck that saved my life. To this day, I believe that it was something bigger.