October 10, 1997

Fall Foliage

The tree out front turned first -- squash yellows, burnt oranges, briny reds. My house is ringed by maples and that one out front starting changing color and dropping its leaves three weeks ago. The other maples are still green as green can be. They have not received word that autumn has arrived in New England. They are hanging onto the wild, young days of summer.

When my maple first started turning I wondered why it was different. In its top half it is much thinner than the others. It is tall and thick, indicating a long life, but it is sickly. I started noticing other similar trees as I drove through the countryside. Some were misshapen by time. All looked far beyond their prime. All are dying.

I first thought that it was sad that they were dying. But they get to make these singular displays of splashing color long before the other trees. They get to show off their plumage first and their brilliance, no lesser than the later trees, is more noteworthy in its isolation. This is not a dying display by a dying tree. It is a shout-to-the-rooftops presentation of life by a dying tree.

I have been effected strongly by the fall foliage this year. Since my return from Arizona, this change of color is the one thing with which I connected the most. I wonder if the change of my dying maple is like the wisdom of our elders -- loud, out front and brilliant if only we would listen.

And I wonder where I am among the trees. At forty-seven, I do not think of myself as one of the elders. And yet I am far from one of the saplings. Maybe I am somewhere in the middle. But I have been thinking lately that that is no longer true. If I were right in the middle of my life, I would live to ninety-four and that is not likely. So I am closer to the end and I am gaining on it. And I will never know quite where I am until the end. So maybe I need to live as if am one of the ones who gets to make that brilliant display early. Maybe I need to strut my stuff now.

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