Gold, Leaves, Age

morning sun The maple in the yard behind ours has lost about a third of its drapery, which means morning light has taken on that particular heading-into-winter cast. There really is nothing like autumn light. Richer than summer’s, warmer than winter’s, briefer and more beautiful than spring’s. Autumn is when I start waking up again, in exact reverse of most of the world. Winter, with its rain and grey, is my most productive time; autumn tells me I’m about to spike hard in terms of wordcount.

The only problem with fall is bad childhood memories–in particular, raking leaves until the skin on my palms blistered, split, then bled. This was a punishment delivered every year we lived somewhere with trees and a patch of yard, and even if I had finished I was still required to stay outside and rake. When small leaves get wet, it’s almost impossible to get them all, and the very trees seem to laugh at you as they shed a few on a gust of wind after you’ve finished the space just below them. Also, three-quarters of an acre is a lot when you have to go over it with a rake a few feet wide.

I didn’t blame the trees, but it was close. They were normally my friends, each summer I could hide somewhere in their branches. Even friends can’t save, when the powers who rule a child’s world are inimical.

I still hate raking leaves. The day I could pay someone else to do it–someone who had a leaf-blower and actually liked it–was a happy one, and I’ve never looked back. Even now a particular aroma of wet leaves on uncut, mud-footed grass makes my hands throb with remembered pain, along a few scars from where the blisters were worn away and bled so many times. That’s the only thing I don’t like about fall, and the older I get, the less it bothers me.

It’s nice to take stock and realize one isn’t a helpless child any more. Other people say they fear getting older. To me, it’s a gift–a mark of survival, and the smell of wet leaves and the aching in my hands gets a little easier to bear. What you survive makes you stronger and stranger; both are welcome. I can be who I am now, and that person is loving her fortieth autumn, in all its russet and gold.

And being grateful I don’t have to rake any damn leaves unless I want to.