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My first Autumn in Alberta

A beautiful fall offers time for columnist to reminisce about her long-ago introduction to the season
Memories of a first autumn in a new country, and appreciation for the beauty fall brings. Photo: Lucy Haines

On this cool October morning as I tighten my comforter around me, I'm reminded of my initiation to autumn (and Canada) decades ago. I arrived in Alberta during an August scorcher, wearing a light tent dress and unable to feel any difference between the tropical heat I had left behind in Jamaica and the summer here, sizzling temperatures that could extend into autumn. When I came to Alberta, the aerial view was breathtaking. I saw from my window seat on the Air Canada plane a land of beautiful quilts--patches of black, grey and browns producing designs which captivated my attention and left a lasting impression.

Autumn in Alberta introduced me to a change in the seasons. I came from the Caribbean where the climate is hot year-round, where seasons come and go with hardly any change in weather patterns. Autumn here was noticeable, not only for her striking beauty, but for a name I had never heard before – Fall. It is fittingly named.

There’s nothing more heartwarming than a leisurely walk along the secluded trails of the river valley in and around Edmonton and the neighbouring communities in autumn. Better still is to take a ride out to any of the forested areas of the province to enjoy the fall colours which stand in contrast to the evergreen giants. Fall is a time when nature flaunts her true colours in landscapes of awe-inspiring beauty.

Most people in the tropics have never experienced the beauty that autumn brings since the seasons tend to merge into a continuous pattern interrupted by four dominant phenomena: hurricane season, rainy season, breadfruit season and mango season.

Of the four traditional seasons here, spring seems to coincide best with the ‘rainy season’ of the tropics. You’ve heard the song about April showers which bring May flowers, or the nursery rhyme--“rain, rain, go away, come again another day.” The rains enhance the juiciness of fruits, with one very delectable fruit earning the season’s seal of distinction. The mango season, so highly extolled, is the favourite in the tropics. Mangoes, like breadfruits, can be harvested at different times throughout the year, though peak periods go from July through October. It's safe to say most people from the Caribbean have an affinity for mangoes.

I settled into life in Alberta, and learned that like all other times of year, fall was a season to enjoy the outdoors. My school principal took me camping with her family. At other times she introduced me to curling and ice skating. In both sports I had great difficulty keeping my fingers and toes warm on the ice, but ingenuity taught me to wrap and tape my finger and toe tips with cotton before putting on gloves and socks.

I shared the traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing and cranberry for the very first time with my principal and her family, as they stood in for the family I left behind: such a great blessing!

Then came Halloween, autumn’s gift to fun-lovers who are able to embrace their alter egos behind a mask. Where I worked in Buck Lake, campground outhouses were overturned, and hay bales set on fire. It was Halloween though, so all was well that ended well.

The latter part of my first autumn was warmed by chinook winds, forcing my school principal to declare my first winter a ‘black Christmas,’ a term I had never heard before. She said I must have brought the change in weather with me, as the season was unusually warm, with very little snow.

Luckily, my first fall was balmy, drastically reducing the impact of a long winter. Looking back, I believe it was the only time I was able to wear my light tropical clothing. Since that time winter has been usurping the beautiful season of autumn.

Etty Cameron came to Alberta in the early 1970s. She is a retired teacher and writer.