I am so grateful for leaves. All summer long I take them for granted, but come fall they are all I think of. Watching, waiting. This week is the pinnacle of their season, and every day brings new stories. The other day we had a hard frost, and as I walked back from the bus stop (my son gets on the bus at 7 a.m.) the sun was rising higher and warming the frost. You could tell that it was just touching the tops of the trees because the leaves were coming down like rain, and the sound was mesmerizing, though chilling, because it was whispering the end. I stood there looking up for a good while, watching them come down, listening. Somewhat louder than a dry leaf falling, the frosted leaf is a bit heavier and makes a slight crunching sound as it hits the ground, more like the slap of a rain drop than the hushed fall of a dry and brittle leaf.
We talk about the color of leaves a lot, but what about the sound of leaves? The sound of leaves falling is one, but the sound of the leaves rustling in the wind is what I will soon miss. When the leaves start to go I make sure to listen more closely, to store up that sensation of sound, because winter is so quiet, and I know the leaves won’t rustle again for a long time. There have been some warm and rainy days this year, and it is perfect for walking and listening. I already miss having the windows open and falling asleep to the sound of katydids and crickets.
This year the overall color of the leaves is subdued, probably due to the fact we have gotten an incredible amount of rain. All the streams and rivers are rushing right now, which is unusual. Some years the foliage turns outrageously, but this year many leaves are just turning a brownish yellow and dropping early. As I said this week is peak–although I feel that there are at least two peaks and sometimes more, depending. What little we have of the oranges and reds are taking center stage this week, and my drive home the other day had me excitedly pointing out the best ones to my son. The rain darkens the bark and branches making the leaves stand out even more. The Japanese maples are especially good right now, and it’s at this moment that you notice how many there are. My neighbor across the street has one that astounds me every fall–the orange is so bright, it hardly seems real.
On my own property, there are many venerable sugar maples, and this year they turned that sad yellow-brown and dropped quickly. As they fall, they get swept by the wind and gravity to a divot at the bottom of the hill the maples are on, forming a pool of dead leaves. I gather these leaves to put on my garden. I rake the leaves onto a tarp, and then pull the tarp up the hill. It seems futile and Sisyphean, but there is no way around it. The garden benefits, and the decaying pile of leaves doesn’t get any bigger. Rich with fungus, the leaves will be a great blanket for the garden. It gave me great pleasure to layer the garden with a thick quilt of leaves, covering and smoothing all of the bumps and blemishes brought about by the end of the season. I meditated on that phrase put to bed, and thought what a sweet thing it can be, to put someone or something to rest, but there is another connotation, a more final one: to sleep, perchance to dream.
N.B. In the 24 hours since I wrote this, we had torrential rain followed by high winds, and this morning it looks more like winter. The glory of peak leaf season is over. There are some tenacious leaves still there–mainly the burnished browns of the oaks–but this temporal window is now closed.