21 October 2008

Leaves Turn to Brown

Wallace Stegner is on my brain. Since I am currently reading The Big Rock Candy Mountain this is logical enough, but what I’m thinking about even more is Stegner’s last novel, Crossing to Safety, in which a New England home played a central role—and the role such a home plays in my own life.

Having just spent part of my weekend stomping through and raking up piles of leaves, I was reminded all over again about how important my New England home base has been for me. This weekend, the leaves of red and golden yellow from the maple trees that line the yard, and the heavy, curled brown leaves from the hickory trees in the center, were raked into piles and then moved off the lawn to stone walls on the side. Difficult to reproduce in facsimile is the satisfactory warmth that began in my shoulders and eventually spread to the rest of me, with each vigorous movement of the rake, each shuttling of the leaves from one place to another, and the smells of the dried leaves on top and the damp ones down below. It ends with the pleasure of finishing up and stomping back inside the warm farmhouse—knowing just the same that in another week, still more leaves will have fallen to take the place of those just removed.

Just as meaningful is the opportunity to introduce to my daughter the silliness and joy of playing with these leaves, of bundling up against the October breeze and stomping through the piles, or taking a ride in a wheelbarrow with leaf cushioning. Nearly sacred is the opportunity to spend unstructured time outside, enjoying the bits of life that make life worth living, from the time with family and friends, to the wind in the trees and their pervasive rustling, and the quiet watching of the chipmunks that have lived there as long as we have (and likely longer).

And then there is the consistency that comes from being in a place season after season, year after year. Those are, unquestionably, my memories: of unstructured time spent reading or playing; of walking in woods and cursing mosquitoes; investigating dark corners of an ancient house and being frightened by one’s own shadow; of being inside and outside, outside and inside; of friends visiting; of meals cooked and enjoyed together, with the seasons of the food itself, from mulled cider in winter to gin-and-tonics in summer; and of the trees and their leaves, the grasses and the hay, in and out of every season.

My memories of this place are surely different from my parents’, and so too will my daughter’s be. It is the opportunity to have those memories that we should not take for granted, while trying to ensure that the opportunity remains, year after year and, hopefully, generation after generation.


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