It begins quite subtly, this big show. Starts way back in late August, when the Swamp Maples are first to conclude the end of the growing season draws near. They fly their red flags in swamps and bogs, and some folks probably just think they are dying trees, drowning in the muck.
As days pass, each one growing incrementally shorter, the tide begins to turn. Sumacs begin to turn the color of red wine, Sugar Maples will begin to show yellow, then reds, then burst into gold and orange. The demure Cottonwoods eschew the attention, quickly going from light green to tan, then brown as dirt. “No pictures, please.”
Sometime in September I begin to be on the lookout for the curious fungi of fall. One day they are not there, then suddenly they are. Some simple toadstools in colors of yellow and orange and red. Some in unusual shapes and deep brown. As I mow the lawn I discover them, and I scold myself for running them over. I stop to look, though they are the same as last year and the fifty years before, and they aren’t exactly what one defines as pretty. Still, they are regular visitors, part of the whole rolling year that comes around just once. I am glad to see these reliable friends again. As quickly as they arrived, on the next round of mowing, they are gone.
The big Maples that line the road frontage are our main source for leaves. We need leaves. We stockpile and hoard leaves right up to the big day of the Leaf Pile Party. We’ll gather all we can, hopefully with plenty of children. We’ll put out cider and eat donuts. Maybe chili if it’s cold. Then we will pile the leaves, higher and higher. As tall as granddaughter Maddie, twice as tall as grandson Evan. We’ll use the big steel ruler to determine the height. Have we set a new record? I believe it is 56 1/2 inches.
Then the throwing begins. First we throw bushel-sized armfuls of leaves at and on one another. Then we grab up children of throwable size, and pitch them into the pile to squeals of laughter. Then we’ll burrow deep within, hide ourselves, make the dog a little crazy wondering where we went (or in Chuy’s case, he would come to save me). We’ll have leaves in our hair, leaves in our mouths, leaves down our shirts.
These simple pleasures will occupy much of a day for us. A day to be outdoors, seeing and smelling all that makes fall. A day to join together for a party without a cake. It is not without a guest of honor, nor gifts. Our Guests of Honor are the leaves themselves, and they bear the wondrous gift of gathering and joy. Joining hands and hearts with nature.
Mother Earth laughs with us as we celebrate the closing of the growing season in North America. She will shine her warm sun on us, or perhaps cool us with a breeze. She will drop one by one and two by two the few remaining leaves of the ancient Sugar Maple, falling like confetti on our festivities. She will paint the sky gold and orange and red to match her trees. She will thank us for appreciating the million or two leaves with which we play for a day. She is glad someone does not see them as litter to be removed, but as playthings to be enjoyed.
Long after the guests have gone and fall cedes the stage for the next set of seasons, I will find on the Great Lawn a large circle of crushed-leaf carpet. Until the snow covers it, and sometimes still in spring, as I mow I am reminded of the day and the season by this memory quilt.
I will see smiles and hear laughter. I will smell all that Fall Air brings to me. I will revel in the memory of a chilly day filled with warm hearts.
And two million of our closest friends.
Take care and keep in touch,