Commentary

Editor’s Notebook: A weather report in mid-fall

October 27, 2021 3:40 am
A tree-lined paved road leading toward sunshine

Sunday’s afternoon sunshine gave way to Monday morning’s cold rain. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Robert Frost tried to warn us about falling into the trap, but we’re just a couple of suckers. “Nothing gold can stay,” he said, but there we were on Sunday afternoon, casually drinking up the sunshine from red camp chairs as if we hadn’t already arrived at the archway to endless gray.

I’ve lived in New Hampshire long enough to know that adjoining days on the calendar often have nothing in common otherwise, but the change in weather from Sunday afternoon to Monday morning left me cold of skin and spirit.

To be clear, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the poetry of a raw autumn rain, but this week there was only dissonance.

I had spent that Sunday afternoon in the aforementioned camp chair catching up with an old friend. We didn’t so much try to relive our glory days as take an accounting of them, and I’m happy to say our visit to the past was neither long nor overly sentimental. At one point we traveled together through days to come – right up to the point where they ran out – but we managed to pull back before future darkness took too much away from present sunshine. Most of the time we just tried to articulate where we are now, as if saying it aloud might give it a little more solidity.

I hope that was the case for my old friend, but I remain uneasy amid the tottering state of things.

Maybe it’s just the human being in me, but I’m a big fan of clean and easy explanations for exceptionally complicated things. So I shared with my friend the concept of the U-shaped happiness curve, which attempts to provide the basic midlife crisis with a bit of statistical heft. Here’s how The Guardian described it in 2015: “In general, people seem to begin their lives with a high degree of contentment. From the age of around 18 we become gradually less happy, reaching a nadir in our 40s. One estimate suggests that, over the 30 years from teen to middle age, life satisfaction scores dip by an average of around 5 to 10 percent.”

The U-shape feels just about right to me, but I say that from the limbo between falling and rising. I’m due to start my ascent any day now, but it’s hard to know how and how much the pandemic, climate change, and political polarization – just for starters – have messed with the curve. Maybe it’s more like a fishhook now and I’m only mid-fall.

It’s not just me. There’s a wistfulness in our house these days – a faint sadness trapped by closed windows. It could be the rain or the certainty that winter waits, or maybe it’s the state of affairs at home and abroad. I actually think it could be more fundamental than all of that – a disconnect between the way we wish to live and the way we’re actually living. 

But what’s the point of diagnosis if you can’t find your way to the cure?

On Sunday afternoon, after my friend and I had reached a comfortable stopping point for our visit, I found myself back on beloved September Road, a beautiful stretch in full harmony with the season. The day had exceeded all expectations, and my state of joy made me an easy target for the cheap symbolism of a bright horizon. 

With no other cars in sight, I stopped in the middle of the road, rolled down the window, and took a single photo. It’s the one you see above. I felt certain that it would perfectly illustrate the column I had begun to write in my head – one about hope and gratitude, about rediscovering a baseline for happiness even at the statistical nadir. 

And then the sun gave way to clouds, and I found myself thinking about that old poem by Frost that’s rooted in the spring. “Nature’s first green is gold . . .”

In the original version of the photo, part of the truck is visible. I hope you don’t feel cheated by the crop, but it seemed more honest to leave open the question of whether I was driving into the sunshine or away from it.

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Dana Wormald
Dana Wormald

Dana Wormald, a lifelong resident of New Hampshire, has been a newspaper editor for more than 25 years. He began his career on the Concord Monitor’s news desk in 1995 and later spent more than a decade at the New Hampshire Union Leader. In 2014, he returned to the Monitor to serve as opinion editor, a position he held until being named editor of the Bulletin.

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