Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Autumn Leaves

Back at the end of the summer in Vancouver, I started a Blog entry titled…well, “the end of summer.” It began like this:

“I couldn’t tell you how I knew, but I knew. Summer ended and Fall came. There was a smell in the air and a few turning leaves, but it was more than that. Some mysterious shift inside, some turning that said ‘Not lake swims and night ice creams, but kids buying school supplies and the unshadowed brightness of Life softened with a a few sprinkles of Leaf-falling Death.’ And how I love it! It truly is the new year for me, a time to aim the renewals of Summer toward the work of Fall.”

That’s as far as I got before returning to San Francisco, where the usual seasonal order, like so much in this fair city, is different from most places. For starters, September and October are traditionally our “summer,” the time we creep out from the blanket of July and August fog and occasionally have bona-fide heat waves that has native San Franciscans thinking, “Oh yeah! We have beaches here!”

We’ve had our share of those days, including just last weekend. But Fall in San Francisco is also the last few months of the dry season, when we can plan outdoor weddings and school Walkathon fund-raising events without worrying about rain. Except this year someone forgot to send that memo to the weather gods and we’ve had some 8 to 10 days of rain. Of course, the moment the weather gets weird, everyone predictably comments, “Global Warming.”

But meanwhile, the days are clearly shorter and the pumpkins are appearing on doorsteps. Yesterday, I walked through the park and crunched a few leaves from our rare deciduous trees amidst the eucalyptus, Montery pine and cypresses and I could taste a bit of Fall again as I remembered it. There was much I loved about my four-season childhood in New Jersey and much I miss. Those magical first Winter snows, sledding in the park, seeing your breath, warming up with hot cider. Then the first promise of Spring, the forsythia bushes and the first robin, the glory of the long hot Summer days with no school and lightning bugs at night and the bells of the Good Humor truck promising ice cream. But I think most of all I loved the brilliant colors in the Fall, jumping into the raked pile of leaves, the smell in the air and darkening days.

This carried into my college years in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where the Fall was even more spectacular and the crisp air and harvest moon were accompanied by the Incredible String Band singing “October Song,” a beautiful song that holds up to this day, with lyrics like “The falling leaves, they jewel the ground, they know the art of dying. And leave with joy, their glad gold hearts, in the scarlet shadows lying.”

On Sunday, I gave my Jazz and Poetry performance at the Community Music Center and one of the poems I read was from several years back when I caught a falling leaf while walking through Golden Gate Park. In the concert, I experimented with pairing poems I’ve written with jazz standards and somehow missed the idea of playing “Autumn Leaves.” Oh well, next time. Meanwhile, here’s the poem. Hail, Autumn!!

Today I caught a falling leaf
and crossed a bridge to my childhood,
where my friends and I spent hours
spinning joyfully in open fields
chasing the spiraling Autumn leaves,
until dizzy with whirling,
we collapsed on the damp, musty earth,
 lay silently in leaf-caught bliss
gazing into October sky.

Now my days are so calculated,
punched onto computer clocks.
Time spent lining up and knocking down e-mails
like obedient toy soldiers.
No sudden gusts of wind to send me diving,
No curve or crunch or carefree collapse.

Today I caught a falling leaf. 

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