I love this time of year when our Michigan maple forests are turned on end. It’s like being able to walk in the trees. Their beauty, having spent the entire summer decorating the sky, comes down at last for mere humans to revel in, a pool of color.
I spend fall days looking for reasons to go out in the woods and with two small boys, I don’t have to look far. They swing on the wooden set out back, the scuffed oval of dirt under each swing covered, then cleared of leaves each afternoon. Our gray kitty watches from one side of the swings, our calico steps too close and I shoo her away.
“Mom, we need a pile of leaves to jump in,” Nelson yells, his perfect oval face swinging above the oval of dirt. He pumps his legs hard, this, his first fall where no underdog is needed to get going. The freedom of moving himself through the air, high enough to kick the maple tree branches above the swingset, lifts him with mischief.
“Make two piles, mine first!” Kendall is never far behind a good idea and always on top of taking the lead.
I rake two piles, first Nelson’s, then Kendall’s, pulling the yellow and brown leaves of the pin cherry trees into the pile, their thin black branches falling each year with their leaves, creating a pokey, dirty start. But they always come first and the boys’ impatience, and mine too, is too much. They have their first jumping in the cherry leaves, with the brownish pink of cherries smushed into their clothing. I overlook this, the laundry detail. The sight of the first tiny yellow leaves on the bright green grass outweighing it.
Then, in a few days, the others start to fall. The wide cupping leaves of maples, their colors sharper, red, yellow or orange, or a combination of all three, paper the yard. I let these fall a day or two, their fat happy colors covering the grass until the boys howl that their piles could be twice as big now.
Then I rake them, the large leaves making the pile three, four times the size of those with the delicate cherry leaves. The maple leaves cooperate with the boys and fluff into the air when they land and settle back down on their heads in welcome. It’s like showering them with happiness. And I love that my boys take this for granted, this abundance of Mother Nature, this thrill of leaves and sunlight and grass and crisp air filling their lungs. This I can share with them, this pleasure of a fall day.