Saturday, October 24

The Fall Lure of Memory

This picture was taken a little less than a week ago. It was such a clear, sunny day that I took off from work and drove away from the city just to walk through the woods in the hills on a weekday, when the only other people in the big state park were a few elderly couples picnicking on the shore of the lake. Once I went further than 100 feet from the main parking lots, there was no one; the elderly have to content themselves with sights set close to their cars.

And so I walked through the woods. This may seem unworthy of note, unless you know how unwoodsly a person I am. Squirrels terrorize me. The thought of a bear out bumbling for berries is enough to freeze me in my tracks even at midsummer. Bear scat. Is that bear scat? Does a bear scat in the woods and to what jazzman's staccato rhythm? Even a scampering bunny can make me turn in another direction. "Oops. Excuse me. Sorry. Didn't know this path was taken." But on this gorgeous day, I was determined to remain undaunted, a feeling only periodically undermined when a leaf would flutter earthward, just out of the alert line of my ever-vigilant vision. You may find this hard to believe, but the sound of one leaf falling to the earth can actually seem as loud as an elephant's footfall to the heightened senses of the leary.

Fall. I suppose if you lived in some unfortunate place that had no preponderance of deciduous trees, "autumn" would suffice to name this season. "Fall," it's interesting to note, is not commonly used for the season anywhere but North America. Here in the Midwest, it's the only word that fits. Here, the falling leaves rule. The best childhoods have memories that combine the parental ritual of raking very vaguely in the background of gleefully jumping in the resultant leaf piles. Forty, fifty, sixty years later, the smell of leaves in the sunshine brings back a memory of leisure and play that not even the now assumed chore of raking can render weary. I know. I just came in from raking.

But now, as a grown-up, despite those delicious memories of carefree times and happiness, I know what fall truly is. It is the last dance. It is the end of playtime. It is the last chorus of birdsong, the last splurge of color; not even sunrise and sunset will dress as bravely come the cold of fast-approaching winter. Pallor is just around the corner; my own skin already has less tint. Last night the big tree in front of my house, the one with the fairy house tucked between its protruding roots, that tree in one night shed almost every single one of its leaves. I know. I just raked them.

Raked them carefully into as high a pile as I possibly could in the little square of ground that passes for my front yard, being careful to pull out any sticks that came with the fallen leaves, making sure no animal waste was raked into it...just in case some passing child has need of leaping into some random pile of irresistibly colored fall leaves.

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