Diane M. How
Ah, how I love fall. It’s a nearly perfect season when hillsides are filled with splashes of vibrant crimson and gold. A time when nature’s chilling breeze orchestrates a blissful dance of leaves drifting to the ground. Apple orchards celebrate the season with mounds of pumpkins stacked on bales of hay. Children dash in and out of corn mazes, squealing with delight. Large barreled pots compete for attention with boastful yellow, rusty maroon and faded purple mums spilling to the ground. The taste of sweet, mellow cider lingers on my lips. I envision long, leisurely walks in thick woods and mesmerizing evenings spent snuggled near crackling bonfires.
It’s nearly perfect, this autumnal equinox. Yet, anticipation of what follows disturbs my pleasures of October and November and causes my emotions to rise and fall like the swells of the sea. The joy of the season is tempered by the impending void that is left when the page turns into winter.
In the silence of the night, roof tops are christened with a fine layer of glistening white. It is a signal to dress in layers before taking my morning walk. I round the corner of my three mile hike with my spouse and notice the chill has disappeared into delightful warmth that urges me to shed my windbreaker. Enjoy the moment, I repeat to myself like a mantra needed to survive the inevitable.
We return home and I am drawn to the bay window for another glimpse of the masterful day. Even after a lifetime in the area, the contrast of Missouri’s unpredictable weather still amazes me. Yesterday’s gray clouds brought gale-force winds that stripped many trees of their treasures. I pause to admire the inch of muted foliage that camouflage the fading green earth. A beautiful carpet left by nature. The sun glistens through the nearly bare branches and my heart wants to stay suspended in this place until spring arrives.
Then poof! The spell is broken with the sound of our electric garage door opening. With it comes a familiar knot in my stomach that begins to tighten in anticipation of the task ahead. Mentally, I prepare to enter the war zone.
The childhood joy of diving into large piles of raked leaves evaporated many years ago. In its place is a yearly battle between nature and man. I hear the grinding pull of the cord and the mulching mower is cranked up. The battle has begun. I watch my husband take off with a vengeance. No leaf is safe from his quest to reclaim the well-manicure yard he spent nearly two decades perfecting.
My partner of forty-plus years views the arrival of the unwanted visitors as an intrusion on his space. His constant wrath toward the harmless innate objects begins with the first leaf that glides to the ground, daring to lay claim to his sacred ground. Each year, his passion swells to obsession and it pushes me to dark places where angry words linger behind pursed lips. We dangle at opposite ends of the spectrum as I struggle to understand the need to alter the natural occurrence of fall.
I force the worn leaf rake to serve as my accomplice in the vengeful attack on the helpless victims entangled in the chain-link fence. My unwilling weapon rebels by tightening its spokes around the metal structure. I choke back expletive phrases that threaten to escape my clenched jaw just as the hum of the motor stops. It is my cue to come help hold the large body bag. I pretend to ignore the signal, but guilt forces me to give up the battle with the fence and toss the rake to the ground in order to fulfill my obligation as a cohort in this crime.
With my place by the commander’s side, I steady the flimsy container as the dusty remains are deposited. My body is positioned to avoid eye contact with the enemy for surely my fellow warrior will realize I am a traitor. The internal struggle rises in my throat and urges me to speak my mind, but I have done so before to no avail, so I hold my tongue. The warfare will end soon enough.
I return to the hillside to search for my weapon which has become one with the muted masses that soon will face a dismal fate. I pry its fingers from the tight hold on the fence and continue my disheartened efforts. My mind drifts to poetic words I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree. The sweat on my brow slowly dissolves the anger in my heart.
With the emerald land temporarily restored to its fiscal owner, the weapons are cleaned and stored away. We retreat to the safety of our shelter, dusty and worn. My gray-haired, weary warrior advances toward the bay window and nods as he admires the recapture of his territory. I am moved by the moment and step closer to him.
“Good job babe.”
He grins, pleased with his victory, and bends down to plant a pleasurable reward on my lips.
His comforting embrace warms me and I try to savor the moment. Tears dampen my cheeks as I watch autumn slip silently into winter. How many more battles await us? I fear the answer.