For once, I can understand why fall is some folks’ favorite season.

See, my hometown is a dense suburbia in the Bay Area of California where the seasons vary between “warm and sunny,” “chilly and wet,” and “actively on fire.” Fire season typically runs from February through the following February, but the worst months are those in the fall. Typically, we’d have rain to help keep wildfires at bay, but due to climate change, our chilly, wet season has been pushed back and the dry brush from warm and sunny season dies off to become kindling. Thus, I associate fall not with woodsmoke and apple cider, but rather wildfire smoke and CAL FIRE alerts. There were days when the sky turned orange and rained bits of ash, like some dystopian young adult novel’s nuclear winter. Once I was driving up to the city to see a friend and got red fire retardant on my windshield as a low flying plane opened its reserves over the highway for the wildfire alongside the frontage road. If you don’t think about the horrifying contexts of those experiences, they’re actually pretty cool!

But, New England fall makes all that autumn romanticism make sense. I’m no fool — I’ve heard tales of the beauty of New England autumns; I’ve just never actually experienced any. Getting to actually see the leaves change and drink real apple cider is incredible. I’ve read plenty of books involving New England scenery; I’m a huge fan of old, classic horror. I never “got” the lines about rain and fog amidst swirling crispy leaves and the scent of woodsmoke in the air. California could barely get a “dark and stormy night.”

My friends have been thoroughly bemused, and at times concerned, about how little I seem to understand New England … and perhaps, seasons. I was absolutely thrilled by the snow that I got to see in January of last year — midyear admit — and spent a good while bouncing around excitedly. Somehow, I never fully processed that snow, being frozen water, was cold and nearly gave myself frostbite on my hands. Similarly, September in my hometown isn’t something I’d call a “cold” month. Looking up the weather report for my area, this week is apparently in the mid-eighties back home. So you can imagine my surprise when I left my dorm in a sundress, only to discover it was 60 degrees out: a positively frigid temperature for yours truly. A friend dug a hoodie out of their bag with a sigh and chastised me lightly for assuming the fact it was sunny out meant it would still be warm.

I digress — besides the cold, the weather and environment here is absolutely delightful. We don’t have chipmunks in my area, and I was entirely captivated by them upon getting to Brandeis. It’s also incredible to watch the colors change in the world. Boston has these deep hues of green that turn to yellows, oranges, and reds, while California seems to have a fairly universal shade of beige or taupe. Less rain means less green, I suppose.

Halloween and Thanksgiving also seem like much better holidays now. Don’t get me wrong, I liked them fine — I just never “got” them. As a kid, I’d overheat in my Halloween costume if the fabric was too heavy or the sleeves too long; here, I can be cold no matter what jacket I’ve got on. I’ve actually had to buy heavier clothes — I never had a rain jacket or heavy coat back home; I’ve never needed them and having them just seemed impractical. However, one or two good storms have since shown me the error of my ways. To my other friends from warmer states — dress warmly and drink the cider. The overcast skies are depressingly grey, so make sure to take care of yourselves! Fall hits differently in this state but so does seasonal depression. I’ve found that soft, cozy blankets and hot beverages are quite pleasing.

Overall, despite the fact that I’m constantly shivering, I’m very excited to be experiencing my first real fall. The leaves are changing, and I can smell the occasional whiff of woodsmoke. It’s no longer fire season or just “summer, but with school this time.” This is autumn, and I’m eager to experience it fully. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go peer pressure my friends into accompanying me apple picking.