01 November 2001

“Margaret, are you grieving
   Over Goldengrove unleaving?
   Leaves, like the things of man, you
   With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?”
     - Gerard Manley Hopkins, 
       Spring and Fall: To a Young Child

Autumn snuck up on me this year. Like everyone else in the nation, I was so stunned by the events of mid-September and their repercussions, I did not notice the brilliant colors around me until this week, and it’s almost too late. Most of the trees are bare now, except for the few straggling oaks and hickories upon which large, dark green leaves still cling to the branches, stubborn reminders of a summer’s glory.

New England is rightfully famous for the beauty of the hills and towns when the autumn changes occur. Everywhere our eyes turn, we take in a rioting crimson, orange, yellow, and brown cascade punctuating the crisp, cool air. The ground crackles as we trod upon the thick layering of stiff leaves underfoot. Every step announces our presence to the world, echoing through empty woods and streets. It’s a magical time of year, when life and death meet briefly to celebrate the transition.

I think I did not notice the changing colors because I have had more than enough death this year, and not nearly enough life. My eyes, like those of nearly everyone I know, have been downcast and filled with tears. I’ve been looking at the world through this saline wall of water, and as a result, everything’s been ill-defined, slightly out of focus.

But this past week, my beloved provided me with the corrective lens I needed to recover my equilibrium. “It’s time to clean up the yard, R.B. Do you want to rake, or blow?” I looked up at the denuded trees, of which there are more than thirty on our property, and realized I’d missed the blaze of October light through the leaves. This was my last chance. I chose the leaf blower.

For nearly six hours of two warm, sunny afternoons, I went to work with the electric leaf blower. Step by step, I blew the fallen leaves forward across the lawn toward the street, into two enormous piles for the lawn service folks to come haul away. I inched my way forward, the leaves whirling and flying around me on their crazy flight to the street and the compacter. The flashing gold, yellow, and crimson felt at times like a column of fire enveloping me, and at other times like a rain of coins falling from the heavens.

When we finished our work, the yard was clear, the piles were deep, and my spirits were high. My heart was beating hard, and not just from the exercise. We put away our tools, closed the garage, and went indoors to supper and sleep. All night, I dreamed I was ten years old and jumping over and over into the deep, soft, inviting warmth of those crackling leaves, laughing and happy. The lawn service came early. When I awoke, I rushed out the front door in my bathrobe. All the leaves were gone. The street was bare, the yard clear. Autumn was over.

Excuse me. I have to go wax my cross-country skis. I don’t intend to miss winter, too.


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