Johnny Mercer wrote the words, and many of us hear Nat King Cole singing it, but the classic “Autumn Leaves” has been ringing in my head all week here in Northern Virginia. We had the freakish snow last Saturday which gave way to a chilly Sunday and a stunning Monday and Tuesday. By early November most of the leaves have turned at home in the Chicago area. Out here, though, Fall is extended. It seems to wander leisurely from Summer to Winter.
The romantics like to think of Fall as the most beautiful time of year. They wax eloquently about the beauty of the changing leaves, the robust colors, and the harbingers of Winter. I’m not immune from that kind of rhetoric. I get it. I get the beauty. I experienced it. I embrace it.
But I don’t do so as naively as I once did. I know longer embrace the coming of Winter with the same reckless enthusiasm that I did when I was younger. Maybe it’s because I have the sense of being in the Fall of my own life that I can’t willingly accept the necessary death and renewal cycle that this season represents. I can’t as easily view the mask of color that hides the truth about what is happening.
What has happened, for me, is that I find myself more deeply engaged in the sights of the season. I stopped and watched a squirrel nibble on a fallen acorn knowing that he’d soon be finding places to bury his winter stash. I stopped and watch a single leaf float aimlessly towards the ground knowing that soon enough the last leaf would fall. I stood and stared at the slow moving Four Mile Run and the reflection of the trees in the water.
I’ve been on this path many times. In the past twenty years I’ve run or cycled much of the W&OD trail. 40 years ago, in my first year in Northern Virginia, and Army buddy and I rode motorcycles on the rough dirt right-of-way of the W&OD railroad. I’ve seen the path change from a forgotten relic that was nearly inaccessible to a fully functioning and active running, walking, cycling thoroughfare. It’s now a place for children and seniors. A path for serious runners and casual hikers. It is treasure for all who choose to use it.
The trees that I rode past in my youthful enthusiasm have stood guard over hundreds of Fall transitions. I have been a part of many of them. This year, as in no other year, I feel connected to them. I feel like they have been patiently waiting for me to notice them. I’m glad they waited.
Waddle on, friends.
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