Falling Leaves

I began my late-night ritual as usual. I started the dishwasher, then opened the door and stepped onto the deck to let our dog out. It was a quiet night. There was no traffic or jet noise, and the air was still. The chill that hung in the midnight air told of another night of frost. I lingered outside, drawn to the far side of the deck by the sights and the sounds that whispered from the yard.

It would have gone unnoticed, but for the still air and two flood lights illuminating what otherwise would have been hidden by darkness. I watched the thirty-foot maple tree in the center of the yard as it prepared for winter sleep.

The source of the rustling noise that I heard became apparent when a leaf released its grip on an upper branch. It struck another leaf or two on its way down, setting them free, and each one then hit more. That one leaf falling resulted in several crackling their way to the ground. I marveled at the sight.

I wondered how it was just now that I saw this dance after spending so many years on earth. Had it gone unnoticed in front of me before, or was it a fluke – a product of the unusual fall weather we had experienced? After ten minutes, I pulled myself away and went to bed, assuming I’d wake up in the morning to a bare tree.

When I awoke the next day, I brewed a pot of coffee and went straight to the deck to see what the tree looked like. It wasn’t bare, but had thinned out considerably as the show continued in the early morning light. That’s when I heard noise off to my left. My eyes followed the sound into my neighbor’s yard, and I realized that my tree had merely been the opening act. The main event played out on their twenty-five foot tall, seven-trunk river birch.

The set had been decorated perfectly. The crisp morning air cooled my mouth like a peppermint, and frost had whitened the wisps of tall ornamental grass, making them bow to the change of seasons. The sun peeked over a distant house and back-lit the birch’s curly-barked trunks.

As the upper leaves of each trunk released their grip on summer, they started their own crackling chain-reaction. This time, as each leaf touched another, a cascade of shimmering frost crystals floated down, crossing through the sun’s rays in sheets, and lit my morning with wonder.

And I watched in the quiet chill, unable to pull myself away, for I knew I was fortunate. Fortunate to be invited to see that grand show, a show that took so many years to notice, and one that I might never see again.