The leaf pile lay silent on a September afternoon on my parent's lawn in 1969. All through the long days of summer the leaves had soaked up the sun. Absorbing it, converting it to glucose and creating the miracle of photosynthesis. Energy from the bright orb high above that had burned our arms and backs as we ran barefoot through the sprinklers, had provided growth and life to the giant oaks and maples on my parent's property in southeastern Wisconsin. The leaves blew back and fourth in the breezes of late afternoon, almost waving to us from high above and signaling the advance of an approaching weather front.
But, now they lay motionless, lifeless and silent.
From their beginnings as bright green buds; a rebirth of sorts after another long and harsh winter filled with somber grays and muted browns. Green was life after death. Green was hope after sorrow. And even though the long night hours persisted, and the cold rains of March rode the breath of winter as the winds howled outside our home, there was a sign that spring was near. And for the first time in months, you could smell the earth again. Life. These smells weren't of fragrance like those of the blooms which were tainting the air a thousand miles south, but these were the smells of peat, of moss and the rich earth.
As May approached, the smells of the earth had changed to the fragrances of foliage and blossoms. High above, the buds had turned to leaves; bright green in color, perfectly formed and flawless before insects and weather scarred them throughout the summer. It was a time of excitement and all of nature was stirring. The red-winged blackbirds had arrived and the songs of summer had begun as the male birds sang their familiar chants and choruses, all the while establishing their territory till fall.
And as you inhaled deeply the air felt good as it filled your lungs. The fragrance of lilacs, dandelions and buttercups sweetened each breath and soon the school days would be over and summer would have arrived.
By July, the leaves had lost their bright green color. They had changed as the caterpillar turned to a butterfly and the tadpole to the frog. The season and their cycle had reached it's summit. Now, even though many were scarred from insects and wind, they were mature. Their greens were dark and deep and they were more efficient than ever before. Like a veteran marching in a parade in a dress uniform, they seemed proud of their time and purpose.
Far below them, we swam in their pool of shade; childhood days of summer seemed to last forever. Small feet searching for that foothold in the bark and the low limbs to grab as we pulled ourselves upward into the freedom above the ground and the view reserved only for the leaves.
On those summer days of our youth, we'd awaken long before our parents. We, like the leaves, had an abundance of stored energy and the world was a mystery where experience had not yet ventured. Shoes were made of order and confinement, of school and church, they had no place in summer play and by August our feet were thick with callouses and soles as strong as a pair boots. The days were simple then. Somedays I'd wade far out into the swamp. The muck would be waist deep as I stalked an elusive bullfrog. I'd get almost to the point where I could grab him and then his head would dart under the deep brown, almost chocolate colored mud. I'd turn behind me and there he'd be, almost taunting me!
On other days, I'd spend what seemed like hours, picking wild raspberries until my hands were dyed purple and my bare legs and arms were raw with scratches from the thorny bushes. A small price to pay for the sweet treat which was free and better than candy.
I knew little about life in that period of time. But, I did know that as the first leaves began to fall from the trees, my summer adventure was about over. Now, during the night, I'd awaken, chilled by the breeze flowing over me from the open window above my bed. Pulling up blankets instead of pushing off a sheet, meant the summer sojourn was nearing it's end. The leaves were no longer a deep green. But, like the spring, the leaves were bright again. Oranges, reds and yellows filled the trees against clear, blue skies. The air no longer had the scent of fragrance. The flowers had long since died and seeds were all that remained. Some children my age relished this time of year, but for me, it was a sad time. It meant no more endless days of freedom. No more hikes with my dog Mack and no more barefoot days in the sun. No more forts in the woods and raspberry hands. No more shooting wrist rockets at tin cans or swimming in a nearby creek.
Soon the trees were thin and dark. Boney stalks; limbs barren of leaves rising into the now, ever increasingly gray of winter. And the leaves, the leaves covered the ground. I remember I used to think of them as snapshots from the previous summer. Scattered out to review, like when you'd get your roll of film processed and you scattered the prints all over the table. Maybe this was nature's way of looking back on a glorious summer.
On certain fall days, we'd be ordered to rake the leaves into piles for burning. It was a competition between myself and my younger siblings to see who could make the biggest pile. I remember the culmination of the raking was diving into the pile and having others bury you in those leaves. Inside the pile it became darker and darker as the leaves were pilled upon you. The voices, once loud and clear became muffled and there was a wonderful tea-like smell coming from the dry, crunchy leaves. I laid there motionless becoming one with the leaves and enjoying the security I felt beneath their blanket.
Until one of my siblings decided to jump into the pile and the peace was over.
As 1969 loomed on the horizon and the winter winds blew outside our home, we thought little of the summer that had just occurred. A child's life is always centered on the moment and not on the past. But, the clothes we wore during the summer before fit us no more. Our dog Mack walked a little slower and gray filled his once dark face. Another season and year had passed.