The Woods Ablaze

I staggered to the kitchen this morning, eyes half-closed, legs leaden, to discover we were out of coffee. I put my hands on the edge of the sink, blinked twice slowly, and looked out the window.

The sun had crested the house behind me, and the maples out back were ablaze with fall color — blood orange and tangerine, butternut and pumpkin. I drank the color unthinking through my eyes, and it warmed my belly.

I smiled. Coffee could wait.

Something very like this morning happened one evening last week. I was driving home from worked — struggling to clear my work-fogged brain after a day of meetings and autumn rain. Bumpers and brakelights, bumpers and brakelights. Above me the clouds shifted, but I did not see, did not notice until the sun broke through and ignited the sumac. They glowed a dark red until a breeze fanned the flames, then the trees above them burst into flames.

* * * * *

I used to think that maybe, just maybe, by the light of the harvest moon, countless Little People — pixies, fairies, imps and gnomes — ascended the trees to decorate those leaves specially, one by one. I had never yet seen these clever creatures, but was convinced my doubt had blinded me, that if I believed without reservation or fear, their magical world would unfold before me.

But I was the child of grown children and always felt that twinge of doubt. So I never saw the magic, only the glorious aftermath.

* * * * *

This fall that magical feeling has returned — but it seems a larger hand is at work. I notice this fall how the colors change like no paint I’ve ever seen. And it’s not just the leaves — a V of geese rising from the river at sunrise flash gold and silver, gold and silver, with each wing beat. The frost refracts, the fog bends, the light shatters and scatters like gemstones spilling from a secret pocket. Even the breath rising from an ancient Airedale’s nose casts swirling shadows on the yellow grass, like playful spirits dancing in the breeze.

It won’t last, of course — but winter brings its own magic. Each season passes in due time, just as you look forward to the next. At least that’s how I see it.

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