November 25, 2007

It was all an illusion, in retrospect - a theatrical moment that thrilled us while it lasted but then was done. And gone.

October in Maryland used to mean fall, but in 2007 October was as warm as September and as dry as Nevada. It was an extended holiday for rakers; the leaves stayed put and stayed green, or at least greenish. The audience - that was us - began to grow restless. A few brave actors came out in front of the curtain to do a turn before the long-delayed show could begin, but come Halloween, who didn't think that fall this year was destined to flop?

And then that third week of November. It was crazy wonderful. Snow was falling in New Jersey, but the leaves in Central Maryland played their hearts out. Incendiary yellows were upstaged only by jaws-of-hell reds. Japanese maples outdid themselves: as golden as the sun and as crimson as rubies. Where did this eloquence of nature, this dazzling delight, come from, so unexpectedly?

You remember Thanksgiving morning - warm, still, with bushels of yellow leaves fluttering lazily down through the shafts of sunlight, jumping as if on cue. Hmmm, have to get the rake out after all. But the dark windstorm that hit late in the afternoon took us from All's Well That Ends Well to someplace out of Macbeth. The worst of it wasn't the torrent of leaves untimely ripped from the branches by the gale and sent whirling and scudding through the air (good thing we didn't bother to rake earlier in the day) - no, the worst of it was what happened to those unhappy few leaves that stubbornly clung on.

It was a deathly, witching, withering wind. Before our eyes, in minutes, colors faded and leaves grew dry and brittle. Could such finery truly be so fleeting, so easily dispatched? Is the vibrancy of life that fragile? By nightfall the show was over, the curtain down, the set struck. What were we left with but an unsettled memory? But take heart. You know the lights must come up again, and the world will be abuzz once more with that happy sense of anticipation - when daffodils (as the playwright put it) begin to peer. It can't be long.

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