Like a disoriented snowbird, I moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, from Florida a few years ago. Florida – where everyone expects it to be sweltering from May until October, and temperate from November to April. Where people huddle inside hoodies and complain when the weather drops beneath 50 degrees. Where there is nary a deciduous tree, and fall is just another clement season.
Floridians bow to a “cold snap” by dragging decorative, wheeled heaters onto pool decks. They cover the sago palms with beach towels, pair stocking caps and flip-flops, even turn on the heat. But, they do not know the tender anticipation and heath bonus of a bona fide Michigan autumn. And after the months we have spent physically distancing and hidden behind masks, Michiganders all look forward to the excitement of the yearly color tour.
I have a pedigree, when it comes to Michigan. I was born in Flint and I went to college in the Upper Peninsula. But I hightailed it south as soon as I graduated. And I kept going south. The one thing I missed about Michigan, in all the years I traveled afar, was the changing seasons. Experiencing fall is a revelation. I am going to go ahead and say it – I think it is healthier to be in Michigan than in Florida, from September to Thanksgiving. And if you will allow me a Great Lakes reference, Michigan is Superior to Florida this time of year. It’s a no tickets needed, come as you are, free show and I am embracing every aspect of the performance.
11 Reasons Why a Michigan Autumn is Good for Your Health
1. Michigan Autumn Boosts Your Immune System
In a recent UC Berkley study , (ironically, another place with “perfect” weather), they site the awe we feel from art and nature as beneficial to the body’s defense system. A walk in nature, especially when the surroundings fill you with wonder, reduces pro-inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines fight infection, but sustained high levels of this protein are associated with heart disease, arthritis and type-2 diabetes. And even if you are inside, looking out the window at a fiery orange maple, it improves your mood and your health!
2. Reduces Stress and Depression
When a dappled sun shines through a tunnel of yellow oaks, I defy anyone to feel blue. And looking at beautiful things can reduce cortisol levels (the primary indicator of stress). During 2020 we have all experienced heightened levels of stress. Whether you are driving, horseback riding, biking, walking, or just sitting on a park bench, you are bombarded with beauty. And beauty breeds a cheerier attitude.
3. Beauty Around Every Corner
When you’re on vacation, in Paris for example, you expect to be amazed. Walk around every street corner and find an Instagram winner. But when your city street is transformed for a season, it is a magical experience. Don’t we need a little magic in our lives about now? In the same way art in public places enriches the lives of the people in vibrant cities, a robust fall improves the quality of life.
4. Autumn Creates a Collective Community
Parks and city streets create safe gathering places for social interaction. The natural revitalization of neighborhoods fosters community feeling. It’s nice to be part of a thriving, excellent place to live. A walk around Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids, or a short trip to Lake Michigan, and you’ll see your neighbors enjoying the spoils of fall. The cooler temperatures and pure air make it a great time of year to exercise out of doors.
5. Speaking of Pure Air
If you spend a few years in Florida, you will undoubtedly experience the allergies that are part of living with a continuous barrage of pollen. I used to put a coffee cup on my head in the mornings to ease the screaming headache from chartreuse pine pollen, coating everything from the car to the deck furniture to my lungs. A Michigan fall clears out the cobwebs. It is all crisp, clean air – especially off the Great Lakes. Feel safe breathing it in…
6. Encourages Self Reflection
Two roads converged in a yellow wood And sorry I could not travel both… Michiganders discover what artists and poets (and Robert Frost) already know – nature’s beauty breeds reflection. Journaling, painting, and writing about an ephemeral outing allows you to relive the experience, increasing positive thinking. And positive thinking can improve all aspects of life!
7. Anticipation of Things to Come
Part of the appeal of a Michigan autumn, is its fleetingness. I lived for a time in The Bahamas, and although I never got used to the topaz water and hyacinth sky, I did take it for granted. Experiencing an autumn in Michigan is also about appreciating what we have, in the moment. Being grateful. Yes my Florida friends, we know winter is coming…
8. Exercise, Excursions and Friendship
Fall is the time to call a friend, load up in the car with “pandemates”and head out to a beautiful spot for a hike or a picnic. Sweaters, mittens and laughter on the trail. There’s still the opportunity to curl up in a sunny spot, out of the wind, and catch some Vitamin D. There will be plenty of time this winter to spend at virtual/in-person museums. Now is the time to widen the path, choose an EXCURSION and commune outside with friends.
9. Michigan Fall Bounty
In the fall in Michigan, the fruits and vegetables are displayed in old-time farmer’s markets and orchards. And they are ripe for the picking. Apples, pumpkins and squash gathering has an added fitness component – you can burn 300 calories in an hour of apple picking! One of the first things I do when apple cider season arrives, is to find an orchard with a cider mill. The smell evokes childhood memories and takes me back to a simpler time.
9. Cooler Temperatures
By the time September rolls around, folks in Florida are too exhausted to walk to the mailbox. The relentless heat and humidity, and five months of sweeping sand out of the back seats of cars, and Floridians just want to lie on the couch and binge watch Netflix. Crisp weather makes you feel energized. People in Michigan are feeling the effects of all this chilly gorgeousness after the COVID-19 constraints.
10. Shuffling in the Leaves
A friend of mine was telling me her dog loves to shamble through the dry leaves. There is not a person on the planet who doesn’t adore that sound. And raking the yard is a great upper body, aerobic workout.
Do I miss Florida? I’m not going to lie – I do miss it sometimes. My family and friends are there, and I miss the beach where I have hiked a few hundred miles of isolated oceanfront. I miss collecting shark’s teeth and (God knows) I miss the mild winters. But, the early color in some of the trees this year feels like coming home (after a grueling start to 2020). The definition of home – warm lighted windows, the smell of apples cooking, a wood fire and a camp chair.
It is likely I will complain about the ice and snow this winter. I will shiver piteously and wear a down vest in the office. I’ll use a steak knife to chip the ice off my car windows. But that’s the point. That’s what my Florida friends don’t have – the exquisite melancholy and immediacy of a true, pure, autumn foreshadowing the coming of a hard winter…