When the golden leaves of October come to the ground they lie still and the season has changed, irrevocably.
BY MITCH MODE
Special to the Star Journal
Trees blazed as if afire with yellow flame. Across the northland last week they burned bright; yellow against blue October sky, bright as star fire, gleaming, alive. Gone now, most of the reds; faded, much of the green; blown to tatters the brown fern. But the yellow leaves shimmered last week, stunning in their late October glory.
Yellow leaf along the forest trails was sharp bright as gold crystal in a miner’s pan; gleaming in the sun, treasure at arms length. When the leaves fell to the ground, tossing on the autumn breeze, they floated as if gold flakes in the swirling stream.
Everywhere one looked last week there was yellow leaf of birch and popple and maple, alive with color and spark.
In the warmth of Thursday afternoon I took Riika to the hunt grounds, wandering the old road under the arching sky and yellow leaf. We flushed one bird, a woodcock that rose to the thinning tree tops and then fell to the shot like a leaf falls to earth. Riika mouthed the bird. I let her hold it then I took it and slid it into the darkness of the game pocket on my vest.
We paused at the backwater of a narrow stream and Riika swam to cool down. In the water was flotsam of yellow leaf under the rich blue sky and when Riika swam yellow leaves bobbed in the wake she made and then drifted silently away.
We hunted for less than an hour, plenty of time to hunt and not too long to harm the old dog. Everywhere was the color of yellow leaf in the trees above and, increasingly, on the ground below.
Friday dawned clear and sunny and yellow leaf color filled the day, as a constellation spans the night sky. Later that day they began to fall to earth, to drift down to gravity’s embrace. What is it that makes a leaf break free? What features the tie that bonds leaf to limb? What is it that causes a tree to shed it’s golden cloak on a single day?
In the front yard the yellow maple was flush with richness of amber on Friday’s dawning. Then, seemingly on a signal, the leaves began to fall. In hours, an instant in a tree’s span, they were gone from above and lay in a soft, rich carpet on the ground.
On Sunday, most yellow leaves were fallen across the land, fallen from limb and branch and the ground below was drifted with leaf and duff.
Early snow will come, then go; it does not last. When it falls and covers lawns and woodlots one knows it will melt. It comes and it goes and, when the time is right, falls and stays. Early spring days bring warmth and sweet scent after barren winter; but it does not last. Warm spring days tease, then retreat, then come again and, finally, are there for the long haul.
But a leaf once fallen never rises. When the golden leaves of October come to the ground they lie still and the season has changed, irrevocably. With leaf fall there is no turning back. A leaf and branch seemingly inseparable, held together as if a single element, when that changes all else changes. The leaf gives up its hold, the branch releases and for a moment or two the leaf drifts on the October breeze, riding the invisible current of air downward, always downward, until it lands without sound, soft as a snowflake, weightless as a passing shadow.
But in that soft tumble comes the stark impact of a season that has altered. For a fallen leaf remains fallen. It never returns aloft.
On Tuesday the wind rose and howled the dirge of seasons change, a cold north wind that lashed the trees, stripped most remaining yellow leaf. Branches stood bare and thin,
leaves tossed as if pages ripped from a calendar and blown with the wind, tumbling and rolling and drifting into nothingness.
The woodland goes to shadows of dark gray and brown and if you were to give name to the color of the somber hues of earth and bark you would name the color November Gray. The days of the yellow leaf, so bright, so glorious, so fleeting, are gone.
I hunted ducks in the last hour of Tuesday. I sat on an upturned bucket in low bog on a small lake. I sat and I waited which is mostly what hunting is about.
Near sundown the sun bled through the scudding cloud and brought light to the west-facing hillside. The trees stood resolute and unbending and unyielding, stood as if they have been disciplined or as if they are fatigued. There was earth-tone green of pine; the russet brown of oak leaf; the reaching gray branches of limbs now barren of foliage. The sun gave late warmth and glow to the hillside.
Above the tree line was the lowering layer of cloud moving fast from north to south.
Midway up the hillside from lake shore to sky line cloud one, no, two, trees stand out; they held yellow leaf. Two days prior; dozens and dozens glowed yellow. The two trees stood surrounded by the dulled tones of pine and oak and bare trees. The sun touched them and it was if the trees themselves became the source of the light, seeming to glow from within; standing against the muted tones all around them and giving up soft light like stained glass windows in a church.
The north wind blew; the trees quivered as if alive; the clouds above raced southward on the wind as if they too were fleeing the northland. Then the sun dropped below the tree line to the west and the yellow trees were lost to shadow and the gathering darkness, in the way that October and autumn warmth are lost to November, in the steady march and roll of the changing season as the yellow leaves fall.