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Timekeeping in a College Town

The first signs of fall in the embers of a hot Chapel Hill summer.

North Carolina Campus Photo by Lance King/Replay Photos via Getty Images

Nobody has told the weather yet. On Sunday morning, I was walking the dog and was surprised by a nearly-crisp breeze and a lack of humidity, and I thought maybe the natural world was getting wise. By the afternoon the heat had settled back in like a thick, moist blanket. The comfortable breeze I had enjoyed in the morning, seemingly strangled in its infancy, was nowhere to be found as yet another sea of hot air flowed into downtown Chapel Hill, too hot even for the various bugs and animals in the pine forest surrounding my apartment to make any noise to break that spell of the summer. The weather doesn’t know yet that it’s practically fall.

I’ve never been one to wish away time. I’ve never wished to skip forward to a holiday, or some other big event. I’m certainly past the days of wishing I was older. Some of that is a conscious effort on my part to be more present in any given moment, but it’s also at least partially my ever-present joy at living somewhere where we get to experience all four seasons. I get excited at each changing of the season, always split between looking forward to what’s next while also trying to enjoy the waning minutes of the right now. Currently, I am enjoying the last few weeks of true summer, cramming the TV I’ve missed out on and will likely not have time to catch up on during the looming football season and spending time with my unfailingly patient and understanding fiancé (for mostly the same reason). It’s still hot enough that I could likely cook a pizza in the back seat of my car, but there are other ways to oserve the passage of time.

The weather doesn’t yet know it’s fall, but college towns all across the country are starting to see signs. The traffic light at the corner of Franklin and Columbia Streets, here in Chapel Hill, is a bellwether for both the beginning and end of summer. As students return ahead of the beginning of the fall semester, the pedestrians and traffic swell in inverse proportion, increasing in volume as the days of the season diminish. The lot behind the erstwhile Spankey’s building was nearly full last Saturday night, with only one or two open spaces for a car full of twenty-somethings with their hearts set on a cup of soft-serve from YoPo.

Classes will start a week from yesterday. The Tar Heels football team will kick off two weeks from this coming Saturday. The Carolina women’s soccer team, having won their two exhibitions earlier this summer, will officially kick off their season on Thursday night at Penn State. Change is afoot, even if the natural world hasn’t caught on yet. Soon the Canada Geese will be announcing their grand exit, honking their way to warmer climes. Leaves will turn, the world will appear suspended in amber for a week or two, and campus will be as beautiful as it ever is. Life’s rhythm in Chapel Hill is hurtling towards the settling-down of autumn, and the return of approximately 20,000 undergrads to this town is the first major sign, even as the temperatures continue to soar. Regardless of whether it means slightly more of a wait for frozen yogurt, this is always an exciting time to be a Chapel Hill townie; even if temperatures are still soaring, it feels like change is right around the corner.

Welcome home, Tar Heels. Welcome back, fall.