Last Wednesday I had some surgery. Nothing too major, but enough so that I would be out of school for a spell. My students know more than some of them want to know about inguinal hernias I’m afraid. But you know – we must seize any opportunity to teach. It is what makes one year different from the next, right?
So that Wednesday morning when I was fasting and awaiting my noon admittance, I arose quite early. My biological clock is set for 5 AM during the school year and I rarely sleep into the alarm. I had some time to kill since Heidi was taking me to the health center, and she was very busy preparing for a big conference this weekend, I struck out on my own. I did not even take the dog.
It was an overcast day. The light was diffused, the perfect kind of day for taking pictures. The fall colors were just at their peak. It was balmy, gusty, beautiful. Most of the other adults in the neighborhood were at work. Since it was the week before Thanksgiving, no one was playing hooky except us pre-op people and the few retirees in our hood.
I took the camera and just set out to see what I could see. Now Heidi and I walk through the road in our neighborhood almost every day. But because I was all by myself, I walked through woods, cut across corners, tromped through the meadow, I trespassed. The world was just so beautiful that day. It was actually one of the most beautiful days I remember in a long time. It’s easy to find summer days pretty. There is a certain amount of laziness that goes along with the warm weather and the sunrises and sunsets are so full of southern summer haze that they are irresistible. The occasional snow in winter is worthy of many photo opportunities as well. It’s just so different. Spring flowers, with all the pollen, are also breathtaking. There is not much prettier than dogwood flowers – at least in my opinion.
But this fall day was so incredible because it was the day that the leaves fell. And I was there to watch and be a part of it. And I was alone with the world in a way that I hadn’t been in a long while. It was just what the doctor ordered.
I played this game when I was a kid. I just called it leaf. It was a game of solitaire. Every fall I tried to catch at least 10 leaves legitimately falling from trees. It wasn’t fair to shake the tree or toss leaves up in the air and catch them again. I set myself a goal of catching 10 leaves as they naturally fell to the ground. It is a way of guaranteeing that you are in a place where you will be a little uninhibited, somewhat unguarded. It is a means of assuring that you will be outdoors when leaves are falling. Not working. Not playing or conversing with others. This is a game between nature and me. And I always win - even when I lose.
It’s not that hard; you just have to be in the right place at the right time. Of course it looks goofy if you’re an adult standing around under trees, looking up at the sky, waiting for a breeze to stir the leaves. And catching them can be kind of tricky because if you take your eyes off them as they sail by, you miss them. And depending on the kind of leaf, they can be unpredictable. Some of the almond shaped ones spin sideways as they fall making them torpedo forward. Now the larger oak leaves are easier to predict, but they often stay aloft for a while making it easy to trip and fall as you gaze up and follow them anticipating their decent. I admit that I fell twice on Wednesday morning but it was in some tallish meadow grass. No harm done.
I had already caught six or eight leaves on different days so far this fall. A couple in NC where my mom lives. A few down here on walks with Heidi. A couple at school when we were eating our lunch outside on clear warm fall days. But this day? The day the leaves fell? I caught 10 more. Just because I could.
And while I didn’t pay bills or write curriculum, while I didn’t have a personal or professional conversation, while I was playing hooky from the classroom, a little stressed about the anesthesia and recovery to come, I took a long walk in our woods and through our neighborhood catching leaves. The leaves were easy that day. They showered down in great brilliant miniature storms. There were swirling iridescent tornadoes of leaves on that walk and no one was there to see them but me. It made me wonder at all of the times just like this that I miss. There are a million "important" things to do. I always feel a little behind. But on the day the leaves fell, nothing was more important than being outside in that meadow, in those woods and under those trees.
I didn’t do anything with the leaves after catching them. I just looked closely and wondered at the beauty of our creation. Then I let them drop from my hand.
Of all the leaves in this big old world
there are none exactly like the ones I caught
on their way to the ground
spinning, spiraling, swirling
so softly – with no sound
and no peace quite so right
as on that day I found