Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pondering passing seasons

(stock,xchng vi)
The chill in the air deepened as Tuesday passed from middle age to the twilight of its short, dull life.

Over the course of a miserable, wet day that alternated from rain to drizzle to just damp and chilly, a multihued carpet of leaves grew thick and slick on the sidewalks and streets, likewise smothering cars, rooftops and lawns.

Fall, an imagined voice announced, is here.

Of course winter won’t be far behind.

Some two months before, we’d started receiving hints of autumn’s impending arrival. The garden’s perennials faded, their leaves slowly wilted and stems withered as nearby tomato plants offered up their final fruits of the season. A smattering of leaves appeared here and there in gutters, wind-swept into small drifts waiting only for a passing car or a light breeze to set them into ripples on asphalt streams.

With the transition from the dog days, daily attire required a little more forethought — a short-sleeve shirt would be perfect for the mornings, but regret would grow as the day’s shadows chased away the warmth. By evening, which suddenly seemed to be arriving much earlier than just days before, one’s thoughts might drift to that spot in the back of the closet where a favorite old flannel shirt or wool sweater hung, longing for its owner’s embrace.

Just a few days earlier, I had pulled our mower from the shed, gassed it up and used it to trace ever-shrinking rectangles in our front and then back yards. It was a blustery Saturday afternoon, and part of me wondered if perhaps the leaves would not be so thick this year, or perhaps they simply would be blown away. The thought seemed to energize me as I directed the mower, which shredded into mulch those leaves the wind had not driven elsewhere.

But Tuesday dawned with the wet reality that my mind's hopes of only a few days before had been futile. By day’s end I had donned that comfortable sweater as an extra layer of warmth and considered such things as the season of the year, of the industry in which I had made my profession, and this season of my life.

It occurred to me that there are parallels between the past 10 years or so in the newspaper industry and the past 10 weeks of seasonal change.

Those of us in the industry had held out hope for an end to its fall, for improvement; yet profits continued to diminish, like the days. Newspapers shed pages and people like trees drop leaves.

Those who survived round after round of cuts were like the last leaves of the season, clinging stubbornly to the branch through wind, frost, even early snows. Perhaps some withered on the limb, but many still slogged through each day, pushing, perhaps even willing themselves to bring life back into this aging hulk of an industry.

But fall is here. As a chill wind blows, the industry continues its inevitable contraction. The question many have: Will this be the sleep of sweet hibernation, a period of gathering energy in preparation for a coming renewal? Or will this be the death of old growth to make way for new?

Will there be a place in this new industry for me?

Fall is here, winter soon will follow. Yet already I long for spring.