October 05, 2003

Savoring Autumn

It is a mercy that leaves in their dying-- massive dying from leaf-fall to total decay between September and the first signs of early spring-- are not subject to putrescence and rot in the odiferous way that animals are in death. Can you imagine! There is so little to a leaf, being mostly air spaces between large jumbled palisade and mesenchyme and parenchyma where the advanced chemistry of photosynthesis happens. And when that job is done, there remains only the carbonaceous shell of the factories of summer to steep into pleasant aromas like tea leaves in the last of the warmth of late autumn. Death smells wonderful in the world of leaves under a painfully blue October sky. And it is not only the aroma that leaves offer this time of year. There is something here for eye and ear as well.

Listen. Can you hear in the gentle currents before first light the papery sounds of leaves jostling still clinging, barely, to twigs where already the watery sap is heading south for winter? Summer leaves, supple and soft, do not rustle and clatter like fall leaves after rigor mortis has set in. The death rattle of fall leaves bears little grief because already, the incipient buds of spring's translucent greens are forming just there where a death has overtaken the stem.

Image copyright Fred First
Look. Underpaintings of ochre and sienna and titanium yellow show through as the chlorophyll blush passes from each leaf in dying like a watercolor wash. Watch as a walnut leaflet falls twirling about its axis falling in a straight line without fanfare. The the maple leaf, lopsided by its heavy petiole rocks stem to stern and twirls in a dizzying circle following a spiral path, not giving up gracefully before joining fallen comrades on the driveway. I sometimes have to stifle applause after a particularly brilliant performance.

It is early yet, with so much more to come. I should keep a list of autumn's pleasant details to look back on from the short days of February. Yesterday while gathering wood over behind the barn, Ann stopped as if she had heard something off in the distance or was trying to recall something forgotten, staring unfocused as people do when remembering. "Peach cobbler that ran over in the stove" she said. And she was so right. And so there is one of those potpourri fragrances of fall we can add to our list. There will be more.

Posted by fred1st at October 5, 2003 07:25 AM | TrackBack
Comments

Savoring life with keen consciousness of mortality. Maybe that's why Autumn is so sharply sweet. I really liked Ann's sense memory of the burned cobbler smell connection, and your naturalist vocabulary connected to emotion blows me away. Have you read Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses?

Posted by: Beth at October 5, 2003 08:28 AM

Ooh . . . what an amazing olfactory image that was! I love your beautiful leaf imagery, too. Marvelous! Fall is my favorite time of year . . . I do so savor it. (The Ackerman book Beth mentions above is terrific, by the way!)

Posted by: Artichoke Heart at October 5, 2003 09:03 PM

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