For a lot of people, certain seasons have certain smells and tastes.
This is true as much for me as for anyone.
To me, the smell and taste of autumn has absolutely nothing to do with pumpkins, but a lot to do with spice.
To me, autumn smells like cheap, from-a-dry-mix chai lattes and cool rain in a park full of greenery.
Let me tell you why.
When I first started college back in the fall semester of 2004, I had weighed my options and decided to jump in feet first. I moved as far as I could away from home — about eight hours in one direction.
This seemed like a good idea at the time. It wasn’t the worst decision I’ve ever made, but it wasn’t the best either. I think I needed the distance, at least temporarily.
In any event, I found that distance on the campus of a small private school in Nebraska.
I enjoyed the campus which — as you may have guessed — was very green. It was actually quite a bit like the Flint Hills area. There was a marked difference between what I was used to growing up in Ulysses, Kansas and what I saw on this college’s campus. Ulysses was sparse when it came to trees and also the grass spent more time brown and dry than lush and green.
It was the opposite here.
The grass actually was greener on the other side of the fence and there were more trees as well.
I lived in a tiny matchbox of a room with one other person with whom I did not get along that well. Somehow, a one-page questionnaire had failed to set us up with our respective best friends for life.
Strange, I know.
I made a handful of good friends nonetheless.
During the first few weeks of autumn, I spent as much time as possible outside. There were porch swings dotting the campus and a park across the street full of big trees, playground equipment and a picnic pavilion which I enjoyed sitting at.
I remember the rough, warped wood of picnic tables — which I think the city got rid of later that year — and the red brick that lined the ground not just in the picnic pavilion but also the streets by the college.
More even than that, I remember the smell of the rain.
It was a very wet September with frequent cool rainfall bringing much-needed respite from sweltering hot days. The storms brought heavy, gentle downpours. There may have been a flash of lighting here and there off in the distance, but I don’t recall hearing any thunder — even the faint sort from far off.
I spent quite a bit of time outdoors at night enjoying the weather and a break from summer’s oppressive heat.
The days grew exponentially colder, as they are known to do in autumn and winter.
As it turns out, a tiny matchbox of a dorm room with no carpets in an old building isn’t the greatest for keeping cool or warm.
My room was often freezing cold.
To warm up, I would go elsewhere. The tiny, stove-equipped kitchen that was right across from my room and which was always warmer, the library where I worked part-time or the cafeteria when it was open.
In the cafeteria, they served a cheap chai latte out of a dispenser.
I recall the brand was Farmer Brothers. It was very sweet with just the right mixture of milk and chai spice — mostly cardamom, if I recall correctly.
They came in dinky little cups with handles you could fit maybe two fingers through.
I drank my weight in those warm, comforting cups of pretend tea that year. It was something I came to rely on when the chill in the air was particularly biting.
I think they have since discontinued that particular drink mix. I don’t believe it was terribly healthy, which might be some of why.
But if I smelled it, I think I’d recognize it. I think it would take me back for a moment to the campus of a small, private school in Nebraska.
With autumn coming up very shortly and rain falling periodically as it did that September, I could do with a good cup of chai.
Lydia Kautz is the Editor of the Abilene Reflector-Chronicle