I will start with this: I do not like plastic fall decorations. No plastic leaves, even when they mimic the real ones so well, and definitely no plastic pumpkins or plastic fruit to decorate with. There, I said it. I know they are convenient to put up and take down, but they are fake. That’s their problem (fake is in general a big problem, philosophically speaking, but fake decorations made of plastic create an environmental one too.) The appeal is likely the fact that they are not messy, but… mess is good.
The reason I am objecting strongly to them is because fall is messy. Beautifully messy with incessant rains, and puddles and muck that follows you (your kids and your dog too,) everywhere, leaves that rot and stick to everything that is wet, the constant raking and that raggedy-looking garden… it’s messy, let’s just agree on that. But choosing to fake it is a denial of fall. The smells and colours and textures that fall brings… it’s just so rich. And the loss of joy in trying to avoid the mess so well intertwined with all the beauty, well, it’s not worth giving up.
Oh, the many times when I raked leaves and had them all in a neat pile just to have kids or wind, or both, scatter them around. Again. Funny thing though, each of those times is etched on my brain and it causes me to smile when the memory surfaces. I miss little boys with small rakes in their hands, slowing me down and I miss their complete abandon as they threw themselves in the piles of wet and sticky leaves. We would collect beautiful leaves at the peak of their colourfulness, some as big as my palm, and we’d make bouquets to put around the house. Yes, some crumbled as they dried up and made a mess, but some kept their shape and leafy dignity. The slow shriveling was punctuating time and the season passing… the bittersweet goodness of touching real leaves as they turned and being touched by their inexorable transition is what makes me reject the fake ones, artful as they may be.
And the pumpkins… the messiness is real. The carving is messy, and the time after the few days of looking-good-while-carved. Have you ever watched it unfold? The pumpkin falls into physical distress as various parts collapse inwards and the stem lid sits askew. Perfectly fallish, no pun intended. You’d be hard pressed to find a better way to describe the season though. Oh, I forgot the removal process. If you wait too long – sometimes the kids feel sad as they look at the collapsed form and they beg for a few days of mercy – the physical distress of the pumpkin will become yours. As you attempt to remove the orange object, there is a softness that tells you decay is real but rebel that you are, you’ll keep at it. Lift slowly, take to the compost bucket, it can be done. Well, sometimes it can. Other times, not quite. The rind, strong as it was a few days ago, will not be able to hold the slightly rotten innards or the liquids that form in the process. There will be mess on your hands, clothing and shoes. But… you’ll remember it all. With a smile, I guarantee.
Because try as we might to eliminate mess and messy in an attempt to make our lives easier, messy is where joy comes from often. It’s the same joy that makes you smile without meaning to do so when you get your hands into some homemade slime (borax, glue, water… here is a recipe if you are curious,) or when you play with sand or mud. Or when you knead dough. You get the idea.
I am not sure if our strong and necessary connections to the bacteria world (which we are so much a part of!) make us happy when we keep on the messier side of life, but the joy of messiness is good and uplifting, more so when kids are around. When they are not, or are all grown up, occasional messiness like real fall leaves, naturally-occurring dirt and gooey pumpkins help us keep track of time and make the most of it.
Here’s my challenge to you: keep the fall real. Let it messy and be messy with it. It will make you smile, and possibly bring back some good memories of being a kid. And hopefully messy, which is an awfully worthy and wonderful present to give to our kids. And accept from them. Because it goes both ways, which is why the wonder of it all. Happy Fall!