Like every other seasonal shift in Maine, the calendar has nothing to do with this. And without a glimpse into the next thirty-six hours (thanks, meteorology!), I don't know that I would recognize it, but it's here regardless: the last puff of autumn, the day before winter begins.
Today stretched into the mid-fifties, and though it was cloudy the streets of Portland were more populated than usual, downtown works out for a last easy lunch or cup of coffee. We recognize it for what it is now. Like the breath gulped down before plunging into water, we take our last embrace of weather that doesn't involve "wintry," of walking bootless, of ducking across the street in shirtsleeves.
Not counting the occasional mid-forties day in February or March, which will see locals out in shorts and t-shirts, this is the last of it for six months. The days will only darken for another month, but the snow and cold that threatens tomorrow will be unlikely to break for long, if at all, until May shows its face. Eight years in Maine and I still need to press myself into believing this. Even today, strolling up Congress to grab some Thai with coworkers, you can feel it, winter breathing down your neck like the villain in a B-grade movie, overacted and not as scary as it should be.
The tree is erected in the square, and its lights are up if not yet lit. The familiar metalworks of light sculptures are being erected on a few of the landmark buildings. The Buoy Local signs are everywhere, reminding you to stay independent of the chains and their riots come Friday. Tomorrow's Farmer's Market will see turkeys and cranberries and pies and wreaths rushed into cars as the first major snowstorm gathers in cloud and pressure and wind.
I stayed a little longer outside, as I dug for my keys. I listened to the last gold leaves rattling in the trees, and took a minute to remember the green grass, felt the breeze shift my unhatted hair. These are sensations that will leave like geese in vees across the sky, and I will forget them before they come back. I do every year--by March, a world that is not monochromatic will seem like something from a storybook, and I will hang my hopes on that work trip to Houston to remind myself that somewhere things grow, somewhere--like Oz--color flourishes and bleeds into you like fire warmth, like wine.
And until then, I prepare, and I look forward: to snuggling in as the white piles up outside; to the Christmas music and the need to bake everything, all the time; to the world being a little softer, a little quieter; to soaring over clouds to family; to children squealing and tearing through wrapping paper; to an unknown baby in an unheard-of town in an unclean trough, ever-looking-forward, ever-preparing.