The Sound of Leaves


I’m late to teach. I want to be there at 11:00 am, and it’s already 10:45, and I’m still twenty minutes away. I’m late, I’m not firing on all cylinders, and I’ve forgotten to eat something before I left the house. I decide to stop at Geppeto’s. I stop there often enough so that when I pull up, they start pouring coffee. Extra large and dark. I don’t have to say anything, I walk in, they pour, I give money and then leave. There’s a comfortable elegance in the simplicity of the exchange.

Some days we chat about books, small-talk, etc, but there is the freedom to be minimal. Today is a minimal day, I stop, get my coffee and I’m back at the car within two minutes. I’m holding the cup with one hand and fumbling for my keys with the other. I had been mulling over the day’s planned activities and was still processing the necessary requirements. I had an official “evaluation for tenure” classroom observation, I had two brand new lesson plans, and I had 45 application resumes to go through. A big day, I had a thousand things to do, and two thousand things that could go wrong. So I’m heading to my car with purpose and some urgency.

I’m parked across the street, next to the golf course, parallel with the out of bounds fence. The course property is edged with maple trees, the street is filled with fallen leaves, the sidewalk is likewise littered, and through the chain link fence I see that the fairway grass of the golf course is stippled with brown. The color very intense under the trees, and fading to the occasional lone spot in the middle of the fairway. I see this all in the momentary glance as I struggle to unlock the door. I pull the door handle and I hear the metallic click of the lock, but before I can pull the door open, I hear a second click. A slightly softer click.

At first I thought it was the door mechanism locking again, but then I realized that it was coming directly from my right. I looked but I didn’t see anything. Strange, then I heard it to my left, a little softer, but a distinct click. Still nothing there, and no movement to help identify the source. Since my eyes were of no use, I used my ears and then I began to hear a series of clicks, they were all around me, close, and also at some distance. It was unsettling to hear but not see the source.

I finally saw the movement of a falling leaf. Unseen and ignored before, I followed the spinning, whirling path, and I noticde that when it hit the pavement there was a soft muffled click. I heard it again from another leaf further to the left. I stood there mesmerized, listening to a symphony of clicks as leaf after leaf danced their way to the ground.

They float, sailing on the smallest of breeze, noiseless until their final landing. Click! Then it all stops. A season of movement, shuddering in storms, pelted by rain, quaking in stiff winds, and then barely moving in the soft summer breeze. Now winter approaches and there is this wrenching freedom before one last glorious flight. One chance to sail, one chance to scribe a path in the air, twisting, turning, flipping and then a reversing a spin. A gymnastic event for leaves.

At the end there is the subtle soft sound that tells the listening world that it is over. Click!

I stood there for a decade, in awe and wonder, my plans meaningless compared to the grace and courage all around me.

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