Free Fallin’ (For Tom Petty) by Jamie Kirkpatrick


With discontented winter just over the calendar’s horizon, let’s all take a minute to extol the fiery splendors of fall. While I have nothing against its three seasonal cousins, here’s why fall is my personal favorite:

The fire pit has come out of summer retirement. The aroma of burning hardwood—birch, cedar, black walnut—hangs in the air. The porch light comes on ever earlier and that evening glass of wine tastes even better when there’s a fire blazing out front.

If you’re a sports fan, fall is your smorgasbord. Football (high school, college, and pro) is in full swing. Hockey and basketball are back and every team has hope. But for me, a life-long baseball fan, the divisional playoffs and the World Series are the height of drama. Do-or-die games, entire cities holding their collective breath, little Jose Altuve as David, flying around the bases in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Goliath Yankees, are moments that will warm me on the cold winter nights to come. Four teams remain—Dodgers, Cubs, Astros, and Yankees; soon there will be but two; then one, a World Champion! And when the final out is recorded and one team celebrates while the other stares out at the field in stunned disbelief, there’s that bittersweet moment when you feel in your bones that the arc of the season—the promise of spring, the dog days of summer, the climax of fall—is finally over and a long winter’s night is nigh.

Leaves: fiery reds, soft yellows, brilliant oranges. (Yes, there are also the dead ones that clog the gutters and the ones in the yard that need raking, but I’m overlooking those particular leaves for the purposes of this Musing Author’s prerogative.)

Long shadows: the low slant of sunlight at this time of year can produce some dazzling effects. Moments seem to linger longer in the glow of autumn. The same golf course that baked under the summer sun is now transformed into a quiet cathedral bathed in an etherial light. Our river shimmers, turning from bright blue to slate grey when the sun darts behind a scudding cloud. The stalks in the corn fields look brittle enough to crumble to dust in your hand; the soy fields are a succotash of bright yellow and pale green. One morning, a fine haze hangs over the tables and chairs out in front of Evergrain, but on the next morning, every little detail of the same scene is finely wrought by the sparkle of crystalline sunlight. Summer has its long hot spells that beg for relief; winter can become tedious; but in between the two, fall is moody, capricious: you’re never quite sure what the next day will bring.

Food: I’ll give summer plenty of credit for its fresh produce and light fare, but with the arrival of cooler weather, I crave heartier stuff: soups and stews, roast meat, tart apples, pumpkin pie, a glass of red wine or a wee dram to warm me on a chilly evening.

Sounds: Autumn has its own singular symphonic soundtrack: doves and starlings are the strings, ducks and geese play the horns, hunters provide the unmistakeable percussion of gunfire.

If you love autumn, you’re in the company of great poets: Shakespeare, Keats, Rossetti, Wilbur, and Frost, among others. Artists, too: Monet, Cezanne, van Gogh, Constable have all used autumnal colors to explore themes of change and decay. If spring is about renewal and new growth, then autumn is an introspective time to ruminate and reflect on what has been accomplished and harvested, like a life well lived.

And I’m free. Free fallin’.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is

Letters to Editor

  1. Michael Brunner says:

    Good one Steve! We had code words for “the low slant of sunlight this time of year”. “Tough sun today”, was offered and the real fans would respond. ” yeah but Dewey ‘s got it covered!

    And I won’t back down!

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