Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Falling of Leaves

They perform their ritual dance for me, their only audience. From above, they swirl in a cadence that is once frenetic, then gentle. They move towards me, then away, then back again. Suddenly, one taps me on the shoulder, asking  if I am paying attention. Then many join in, all around in a mass of movement and sway. Finally, one by one they leave my side and touch the ground, caressing and covering it in a warming blanket. It is the beginning of the change of seasons.

Growing up, I lived in a corner house. As fall announced its arrival, my task was to gather the leaves in big piles, straining to make one more compact than the others. The rakes showed stark reminders of past battles, their scarred and gnarly fingers having difficulty holding and pulling their squirming foe. The wind served as silent adversary, making a mockery of much of my work in one large breath.

My dad was always there in partnership with me. Looking up from my battles, he was constantly at work. I know he was watching, but was never looking when I glanced in his direction. "Are you having trouble?" He would come over, examine my rake closely and then hand me his weapon of choice. "Try this, I think it may help."

Like enormous dots on the lawn, these piles were moved toward one another until they formed one massive being. In later years, when it was determined that the burning of these beings was environmentally inappropriate, they died a gentler death, being pushed to the curb and carted away. But I still remember those earlier times, when the job was completed in a multi-colored blaze.

I drove up to Massachusetts yesterday, looking for the vibrancy in the colors of the landscape. The change is still in its infancy, and both the hues and my response were muted. In the coming weeks the dance that surrounded me this morning will be repeated often for every person who ventures into the midst of a New England fall. In my travels, I will pass many a family capturing not the leaves but a lasting memory. As for me, fall will forever have a smell and sight that has long since disappeared from the American landscape.


gail said...

Beautifully expressed, as always. But did we grow up in the same home? I have absolutely not recollection about leaf gathering. Where was I?????

Robert said...

Yes, where were you? I am as certain of this image as I am of my own name. But why do I have so many of these recollections in which you do not appear? And if you don't recall them, were they not real?