Until this year, all autumn meant to me—with respect to leaves at least—was the Sisyphean task of clearing our deck and walkways of the daily drop. More like hourly, for it wasn’t uncommon to rake and sweep the surfaces spotless only to turn around and find the surrounding oaks and poplars mocking my effort with an even more emphatic disgorgement of their detritus. But time, the great healer, is also a wonderful enlightener. And for the first autumn in let’s say forty years, I have had a sizable amount of it on my hands. Time to wander, unhurried, down country lanes. Time to stare out of my kitchen window over a steaming cup of tea. Time to sit on my porch and just watch. And said time afforded me the opportunity to witness, for the first time in my life really, the annual miracle of color and aerodynamics that is fall.
To revel in the explosion of hues that just happens this time of year borders, I suppose, on the banal, but I have to say that, after being overrun by the avalanche of green that awaits outside every window and door of my home for month upon summer month, the sudden shift to brilliant oranges, yellows, and reds is as hypnotizing as it is uplifting. What really drew my attention and brought me much pleasure, however, was studying the lemming-like leap of hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of until-that-moment steadfast members of nature’s overarching canopy. Collective launches into painfully azure skies with each winter-promising gust of wind. Deluges of sparkling gold, tumbling down to kaleidoscopic lawns, fields, and forest floors. Best appreciated, I do believe, in the morning sun.
Even more enjoyable, though, proved to be observing selected individuals’ journey to their earthly resting places—ashes to ashes, chlorophyl to dust. I won’t venture into describing the various species’ specific free falls, but I will note that each one is deliciously unique. Some simply choose to plummet like grief-stricken stock brokers in the Great Depression. Some pirouette. Some see-saw. Some swing like a pendulum. Some yaw and sway like a ship on a surging sea. Some even ride thermals like birds of prey, before eventually succumbing to the insistent gravity of the ground below. Some of the best flyers seem to be those that have overstayed their welcome upon the branch and have lost all their color and moisture—desiccated husks of their former selves—suggesting that there may always be some magic left in even the most spent and withered of beings.
And the all of this is so readily available, to all of us, gratis, without adornment of curation—no human interference or contrivance necessary. But there are some aspects of human interface with the spectacle that can augment the experience. No, please God, I don’t mean the sound of leaf-blowers. But I do mean the sound of rakes, rakes with bamboo tines. In fact, the sound of bamboo-tined rakes on a Saturday afternoon in October, perhaps complemented by some barely discernable football play by play on a transistor radio, bring back a bundle of my warmest childhood memories. As does, I admit with some shame, the smell of backyard cremation of regiments of these fallen soldiers. And don’t let me forget the sight of a towering pile in the center of a lawn, awaiting a swan-dive or a flip.
Even more glorious, though, is a new memory that I’ll hopefully carry with me for the remainder of my days. On a recent walk along a wooded path, my granddaughter, all of five, had danced ahead under a ticker-tape shower of crimson, canary, and apricot. And, in one of those spontaneous bursts of childhood joy that can be almost too pure to witness, she took to looking skywards, reaching out, and jumping for one tumbling scrap of autumnal brilliance after another; giggling with each one she captured, laughing uproariously with each one she missed.
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