October 22, 2007 in Features

Leaves, memories fly in autumn winds

Cheryl-anne Millsap The Spokesman-Review
 
File Associated Press photo

Colorful leaves falling to the ground signal a new season. Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

Things are flying in the wind.

The leaves that decorated the oak and maple and chestnut trees, leaves that flared into color and set the hillside aflame, are falling now.

Every day, when I drive home from work and pass my favorites – the tall shade trees that stand like sentinels along the city streets – they are wearing less than they wore that morning. There are more leaves on the ground and stuck to windshields of parked cars. There are more leaves on the grass or raked into piles on fading lawns. The trees are preparing for winter.

The window over my desk looks down over a courtyard. All day I look out on an urban forest of tall Honey Locust trees.

In the spring I watch the bare branches fill with tender green buds and in the summer the leafy canopy blocks my view of the street below. This time of year, the prettiest time of the year, the trees – lit by the afternoon sun – turn into golden torches.

One afternoon last week I walked downstairs and out into the courtyard. I needed to clear my mind.

It was one of those anniversary dates. One of those days of the year that has, or once had, special significance. A day when you were, in one way or another, in a big way or a small way, forever changed. A day when you gained something or lost someone. A day you discovered you were grown up or realized just how far you have to go.

I’d pushed the date out of my mind and kept myself busy and distracted, but the trees tripped me up. They were so beautiful I didn’t look away fast enough. I slowed down long enough, was still long enough, for a memory to catch up with me. And in an instant I was lost.

I surrendered. I pushed away from my desk and went down to the trees.

As soon as I stepped outside, the wind, channeled between the buildings, pulled at my coat and flipped my scarf into my eyes.

Trapped, caught in the space between tall buildings, the wind circled and chased itself and gathered into a cyclone. The branches of the trees trembled and waved.

Suddenly a tempest of leaves twirled around me, tangling in my hair and showering me with pieces of gold.

I reached out and a solitary leaf blew against my open palm. I closed my fist around it. I didn’t know the question but I had plucked my answer out of thin air.

Now, at middle age, there are a great many anniversaries. Some are happy. Some are sad. Some are bittersweet. Others, like photographs tucked between the pages of a book, have faded, or will fade with time. Some, like the leaf I held, aren’t really mine to keep at all.

I opened my hand and the wind was waiting. The leaf peeled away and caught a current of air. It rose high above me, turned over like a page on the calendar, and was swept away.


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