IN SEPTEMBER, my joy and sorrow begin. It is the month when I feel most alive, both fragile and indestructible. It also creates in me a discomforting nostalgia, a yearning for more that makes me a trifle queasy. What’s precious is heightened by the changing season.

The time is so beautiful I wish it could last forever. That is also why I go out of my way to salute the ephemeral. After all, who could sustain my blissful ache for much longer than a fortnight?

And anyway, all love is ambiguous.

Come September, awake at last, I cast off my summer lethargy. Thank goodness July and August are over. I love chill nights, the first frost and the cosecha (harvest) in our valley. A final alfalfa cutting…hay bales in satisfied rows…magpies and dusty ravens.

For weeks I have eagerly anticipated the end of green. Summer fecundity always makes me nervous. Frankly, I detest heat and cannot bear the bustle of warm weather.

Why? Well, for starts climax tourism in New Mexico makes me want to commit suicide. Beer, shorts, sunglasses, barbecues, fireworks, fiestas. In my hometown of Taos, after the June solstice, everybody’s so busy gardening, making money, guzzling Budweiser, fishing, procreating. Keepers, will it never cease? By August I’m down on my knees begging for Labor Day.

One minute after that weekend I’m so happy I could expire. Just feel that edgy zip in the air! Taos does not exactly empty out, but things calm down a little. There’s a new murderer in our valley,  contemplating the scene. Sinister scouts dispatched by winter hover on the drowsy ridgelines, planning November assassinations. Snow powders our mountaintops.

And when zucchini leaves turn black, I shout out, “Hallelujah!”

My neighbors gallop around frantically gathering wood, mulching strawberries, draping dark plastic over their fat tomatoes. But not me, I’m a grasshopper. I wave goodbye and head for the wills to hunt the not-so-wiley (but always delicious) grouse.

Alpine meadows start flowing with a yellow tinge, soft purple bruises, a hint of radiant beige. Aspen leaves get golden as night approaches. High country rivulets are so low and clear it’s difficult to catch rout. Geese fly by just under the stars, clarion and sad, their calls a gentle warning.

By mid-September, the urgency is killing me. Slow down Earth, take it easy, what’s your hurry? Chickadees and juncos flit about the spruce branches as I wander old logging roads. Wild geranium leaves turn crimson beneath my feet. In only a week thimbleberry evolves through a dozen amber hues.

Early snows up high are thrilling. Rainy days trigger my laughter. I study bear sign; I listen to squirrels chattering’ I stop to gawk at a hawk.

The harvest moon and kinnikinic…and mint and little apples. Out on the mesa sage has a poignant gleam in cooler weather.  At tiny stock pods I admire avocets, ibises and ruddy ducks. Nighthawks and Mexican bats feed lavishly on the plentiful insects.

Each day I wander through intimate country. September is my only true “vacation,” a marvelous turning point. The autumn mod causes me to woo my own vitality.

Still, death is what gives meaning to life, and September is the first shadow of a wondrous scythe. The bridge here is between Where I Came From and Where I’m Going, a most intriguing journey. I once had lust for spring, but that was at another age and place. I’m lucky, I’ve had a bum heart for 20 years. And I made my separate peace ever since, I’ve been walking through an extended September. Familiarity has bred a lack of contempt. Not being afraid of dying is paramount to human liberation.

September is a dish I gobble ravenously. Or sometimes I drink it like good clean bourbon. By the end of 30 days the high ground is layered with aspen leaves. Canyon wrens will presently quit singing in the gorge. October follows, but it’s for killing deer, which I find too noisy and rather fretful.

So: Each year I reaffirm my vows in September. To life, to the mysteries, to the love of growing older. The whole kit and kaboodle comes into focus. Whoever accepts their own mortality travels with a lighter heart.

It is very simple, a truth to count on: September proclaims eternity.

Read more: This essay and photos by John Nichols are excerpted from "The Holiness of Water," a book that was planned to publish in 1993 as the third of a trilogy