The Seasons Grow Shorter

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Autumn officially arrives on Saturday. In East Texas, the official date doesn’t mean much. Summer heat can linger well into October. I am keeping my eye on a cool front possibly arriving late next week that could drop our highs down into the 70s and lows into the high 50s — practically sweater weather to thin-blooded East Texans. The highs this week have been pushing 100. It is well past time for the dog days to end.

Heat notwithstanding, the leaves have begun descending, skittering across the deck when a breeze blows, clogging the swimming pool skimmer, finding their way inside the house on the backs and bellies of our quartet of critters. I bought a new broom to sweep out leaves and regularly fire up the blower to clean off the deck. That is a Sisyphus-like effort, but I can’t help it when the OCD kicks in.

Sometime in October, I’ll have the pool shut down and covered, when the onslaught of falling leaves outnumbers my efforts to keep the pool skimmer clean. And I’ll call the yard guy to return weekly until the limbs are bare, autumn is over and winter has arrived.

Autumn remains my favorite season. Our neighborhood will soon be awash in color, from my neighbor’s Chinese pistache with its crimson leaves, to the mature Japanese maple down the street, and even the Bradford Pear trash trees. Sam the Dog and I will walk and enjoy the crisp air. I will feel blessed, though the months and years fly by so quickly now.

Both Sam and I are likely in the late autumn or early winter of our time on this planet, approaching the fourth quarter as it were. Of course, it could be the dead of winter for my life and his, with the two-minute clock whistle about to blow. There are no guarantees that things will not turn south quickly. But for now, I’m blessed with good health and fitness, and so is my four-legged walking buddy. I do not take this for granted, and try to make every day meaningful in some way.

The most vivid leaves, at least in East Texas, are invariably found among the scrubbiest of trees, such as the sumac. Why is that? Is it a metaphor for life, success, unexpected brilliance, something? Maybe it is just God’s way of demonstrating to us that beauty can be found in the ugliest of things. Or perhaps it has to do with photosynthesis, the perfect combination of rain and cool weather, soil conditions and other mundane explanations.

I prefer metaphor, of course.


When I was a kid, positioned somewhere in that limbo between childhood and adolescence, I played a solitary game with leaves each fall. I pretended they were wounded soldiers who needed splicing up. I would punch holes in a fat leaf with a twig and try to weave the twig in and out of the holes. Often the leaf would split. I would start over.

I remember sitting in the dormant, crusty San Augustine grass in the backyard of our house on South Twelfth Street, on the cusp of puberty but clinging to childhood, playing this game alone, lining up the soldier-leaves as if they were ensconced in a grass-carpeted infirmary. I don’t know why I did this with autumn leaves. Maybe it is because my mom was a nurse.

A friend says she used to make “salads” for her younger brother out of batches of leaves of different hues. There you go. Boys patch up wounded soldiers. Girls make salads. One gender is creating something beautiful, the other repairing the mess mankind has made.

The thing is, I still fiddle with leaves each autumn, though I no longer pretend I’m stitching up soldiers. But before the trees have shed all their leaves, and the yard guy arrives with his backpack blower and bags, I will sit on the back deck and toy with a hackberry leaf. I will try to remember what it was like to be a child, when life seemed filled with possibility and promise. It still does, even as the seasons seem to grow shorter.



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