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I’m lying on a paddleboard in the middle of a lake, eyes closed, feet outstretched. My hands are resting on my bare stomach and the late afternoon sun is warming my face. I’ve been out on the water for a while, balancing, floating, meditating, just doing my thing. It’s a Friday afternoon, it’s my first time paddleboarding, and I never want to leave this water.

*

I knew I would miss pol sambol and the convenience of tuk-tuksbut I never thought I would miss Colombo’s air. After months of longing for air conditioning, I thought I would welcome the cool respite from what was August’s heavy heat in the U.S. But after a week or two in A/C, I found the air one-layered and stale. Living close to the equator meant being able to taste the humidity, the complication, the mercurial nature of what was around me. I got used to thick air being a force to be reckoned with. (So did my hair—anyone who has experienced South Asia’s air knows that it is often suffocating, and anyone with wavy or curly hair moving to South Asia knows to cut it before going.)

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cotton candy october sky

But just as I was beginning to feel at home in the summer heat here on the East Coast, autumn began creeping in, with her chilly mornings and butternut squash recipes and red, yellow, burnt orange leaves. (And, of course, pumpkin spice-flavored everything.) One day, in early fall, I stayed the night in an unfamiliar house. The fridge operated partially on voice command, the bathroom had a hands-free soap dispenser, and the dark wooden floors squeaked in the most inconvenient places. But I felt at home lying in the creaky bed under a whirring overhead fan. The windows were open and while there were no geckos on the wall or cockroaches flying in to keep me company, the chattering crickets and warm night air assured me I would be dreaming about Sri Lanka that night.

I slept better than I had in months.

I think we are supposed to pay attention to the air, to the weather, to the seasons. It feels good to acknowledge, to be enveloped, to be in touch. But many reading this right now will be doing so from a climate-controlled home, a desk bordered by cubicle walls or monitors, or an office lined by tinted windows (or an office with no windows at all). I’m no exception—I’m  writing this from a makeshift fort of blankets that I wish were outdoors, but unfortunately is not. I realize there are practical reasons for being shielded from nature at times; I’m just having a hard time adjusting to it. Because it is so strange to see leaves, such a frenzy of color, thrashing against the window and not hear anything but the crick-crack of the indoor heater.

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On a bike ride a few Sundays ago on the Mount Vernon Trail, I was reminded of how exhilarating biking can be, because of where you are, the people you’re with, the time of day, or just the rush of a good ride. But it’s the fresh air that does it for me, how it makes my cheeks red and my eyes bright and my lungs thankful.

The morning I took the SAT’s, I woke up extra early to go on a bike ride through Vahinigen, the town I was living in just outside of Stuttgart, Germany. It was a dark morning in the middle of winter, and I was sixteen and singing Snow Patrol at the top of my lungs while rushing down a hill on wheels with no hands. And that fresh before-dawn air nudged me awake and had me grinning at what the future might have in store for me, as I realized I would much prefer to go through life judging my happiness by air quality as opposed to, say, test scores.

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“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers,” wrote L.M. Montgomery in Anne of Green Gables. I am happily tumbling through September, October, and November this year—this is the first time since 2010 I’ve been able to smell the leaves changing. It’s hard to truly appreciate the crispness of the seasons until you go without them; I guess that makes me an East Coast girl in these parts of the world. Every time I step out into a dusky autumn evening and smell firewood, that smoky, homey, gemütlich scent has me smiling like I’ve just remembered an inside joke or been told that my dimples remind someone of an old friend. (For some reason, this has happened more than once lately. A elderly lady in front of me in line at the grocery store the other day told me a long story about how, as a teenager, she would sleep with buttons in her cheeks so she could have dimples just like the ones her best friend had, because “those cute things got her ALL the fellas.”)

My favorite activities this fall? Hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Sleeping with the window cracked and waking up just a little bit cold, nestled in blankets. Playing in the leaves with my parents’ new puppy, Piper. Sitting around fire pits with Elon friends and pumpkin beers. Making spicy soups. Going on runs with one of those ear-warmer head wrap things. Seeing the leaves change hues in numerous places along the East Coast, and taking photos of the colors (many included in this post). And getting ready for the holidays that I’m so glad I’ll be with family for this year.

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And now it’s time to get back to that air. So I’ll sign off with part of a poem that I read recently that is just. exactly. right:

The sun is warm, the breeze is cool, the lake is murky,
and your weighted bobber is flying out over the water like a magical Cheeto.
You know there must be better ways of saying all this.
But it’s October and you’re fishing.

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