SCOTLAND, CONNECTICUT — Scotland, Connecticut.--The worst thing about growing up is the ease with which we surrender ourselves to the details of daily living. The leaves have been glorious this year, the color of Halloween pumpkins and childhood sunsets. But driving through the country these last few weeks, I have noticed the gaudy autumn colors only in passing.
I haven't paid much attention. Instead, I have been obsessed with nits: picking up children from school, the latest deadline at work or household chores and projects. So the colors have passed without my noticing.
Until a week ago. That is when my 4-year-old, with the wonder Columbus must have felt upon gaping at the New World, contemplated the small mountain of leaves her father had raked, turned to me and said, ''Let's jump in.''
I can't take credit for her understanding, correctly, that one autumn leaf is to be admired, but more than a dozen are meant to be plowed into. That knowledge is instinctive on her part, as it is for anyone under three feet tall.
I certainly set no happy-go-lucky example for her. I hadn't tumbled in leaves for more than 20 years. Worse, when my daughter gazed upon the mound, I was standing in the driveway with briefcase in one hand, car keys in the other, high heels, business suit and what was probably a horrified expression on my face.
You don't get it, I explained in so many words. It's your job to jump in leaves. You're the little kid here. I'm grown-up: dull, predictable, and utterly incapable of doing anything so senseless, unreasoning and delightful. Why can't you jump in the pile alone?
''Please,'' she said.
My clothes, I said. Children's clothes are made for jumping in leaves. Not those of adults. I'd get a run in my stocking. I might get my suit dirty, and have to get it dry-cleaned. Even if I didn't, I could picture myself pulling out a crumpled, dried-up leaf from my pocket in the middle of a business meeting.
''Please, mom,'' she said, gazing up at me with her coal-dark eyes.
''OK,'' I relented.
That is how I discovered the joy of diving in a small mountain of leaves, high heels first, business suit akimbo, clutching the guiding hand of my small daughter.
Anna was right; although she didn't understand or articulate her reluctance to wait for me while I got changed into my jeans before I jumped, I knew afterward that it would have been all wrong. Diving into leaves isn't a big deal. But there is something about jumping in leaves and not giving a damn about suit, shirt or dignity that makes the experience wonderful. Like splashing in a puddle on purpose, or trying to catch snowflakes with your tongue. It is not so much an act as a state of mind; of being willing to wear the world lightly, if only for a few minutes.
It is then that you notice things that are easy to overlook: The china-bowl-blueness of the sky, and how beautiful is that short pause we call autumn before the cold begins in earnest. Not to mention how much fun it is to bury yourself in leaves up to your neck.
Eight hundred years ago, a Persian poet wrote,
If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft,
And from they slender store two loaves are left,
Sell one; and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.
We adults spend so much time pleasing the boss, paying the mortgage, and punching the clock that we forget what the poet knew: how to feed our souls.
So while the fall lasts, every day my daughter and I join hands and, after building momentum by running down the driveway, we jump in the leaves. And it's made me think. Maybe this winter, I'll make angels in the snow.
Maura Casey is associate editor of The Day, of New London, Connecticut.