I SPENT PART of my morning on this day after Thanksgiving (I refuse to call it by that other, horrible name) raking leaves from my condo buildings small front yard and sidewalk. They all came from the lone massive oak that sits next to the curb. Given that the tree is on city property, I don’t have to worry about bagging and disposing of the leaves; I simply rake them onto the street where, eventually, the city leaf sucker will come and take them away.
I love the way the area looks after it’s been raked and swept. So neat and clean and orderly. But the tree is not yet done shedding, so even as I raked and admired, new leaves kept finding their homes on the sidewalk’s dark red bricks. By the end of the day, I’m sure, hardly anybody will be able to tell that somebody took the time to rake that area. But I know, and I’ll know, and that will continue to make me feel good, at least until the sidewalk and yard are once again carpeted with brown crackling leaves.
I would estimate that about a quarter of the tree’s leaves have yet to make their way down to earth. Some of the others started falling weeks ago, and a lot of them gave up the fight when Sandy’s winds made it impossible for them to hang on any longer.
Those that fell early were probably not yet ready to do so, physically. Some still had a touch of green on their veins. They could have continued to sway in the wind, but they met a violent death, at the hands of a wind gust or a careless, reckless bird that didn’t watch where it was going. It was so young, so full of life, the other leaves commented, as they mourned each companion’s passing (like humans, leaves don’t like to use any form of the verb “to die.” We lost it, they say. Or, it passed on. Or anything, as long as they didn’t have to say, it died.) It had so much to live for, they would all agree, for fall was still in its infancy and it would be weeks before winter’s brutality arrived.
The leaves that remain are the survivors. They are the strong ones. Something in their genes made them sturdy, capable of holding tight to their branches even as others became early victims to the brittleness and fragility that the year had inflicted on their stipules. They spend their days wondering how much longer they will be able to hang on, and each day, they ask themselves if this new day will be the day when their weariness will force them to say, enough: I’ve had a good life and I can go now – there’s no need for me to stay.
And now, as a cold front approaches, every minute that passes some 20 or 30 leaves – more if there is a breeze – decide that today is indeed their day to fall.
And so they let go, one by one. Watching them fall is fascinating. Some just drop straight down, unceremoniously, like a skydiver with no parachute. Others float like a parachute, gracefully but with little or no sideways swaying. Others look like gliders, finding miniscule air currents and riding them, back and forth until they come in for a landing. Still others look like helicopters, the blades behaving like rotors that propel them gently to the ground. It’s a beautiful sight.
I tried mightily to catch a leaf at the exact moment it decided to snap away from its twig, but I was unable to catch that magic moment, and so I gave up.
I’ve seen the leaves of this tree fall for the past eight years. I will not be around to witness this spectacle next year, and that brings a touch of sadness to my day. But I can’t wallow in my melancholia too long: I have friends coming over tonight for enchiladas (or mole; I haven’t decided yet), and there’s work to be done. As we say in Paris: On y va!