1 Every October it becomes important, no, necessary to see the leaves turning, to be surrounded by leaves turning; it’s not just the symbolism, to confront in the death of the year your death, one blazing farewell appearance, though the irony isn’t lost on you that nature is most seductive when it’s about to die, flaunting the dazzle of its incipient exit, an ending that at least so far the effects of human progress (pollution, acid rain) have not yet frightened you enough to make you believe is real; that is, you know this ending is a deception because of course nature is always renewing itself— the trees don’t die, they just pretend, go out in style, and return in style: a new style. 2 Is it deliberate how far they make you go especially if you live in the city to get far enough away from home to see not just trees but only trees? The boring highways, roadsigns, high speeds, 10-axle trucks passing you as if they were in an even greater hurry than you to look at leaves: so you drive in terror for literal hours and it looks like rain, or snow, but it’s probably just clouds (too cloudy to see any color?) and you wonder, given the poverty of your memory, which road had the most color last year, but it doesn’t matter since you’re probably too late anyway, or too early— whichever road you take will be the wrong one and you’ve probably come all this way for nothing. 3 You’ll be driving along depressed when suddenly a cloud will move and the sun will muscle through and ignite the hills. It may not last. Probably won’t last. But for a moment the whole world comes to. Wakes up. Proves it lives. It lives— red, yellow, orange, brown, russet, ocher, vermilion, gold. Flame and rust. Flame and rust, the permutations of burning. You’re on fire. Your eyes are on fire. It won’t last, you don’t want it to last. You can’t stand any more. But you don’t want it to stop. It’s what you’ve come for. It’s what you’ll come back for. It won’t stay with you, but you’ll remember that it felt like nothing else you’ve felt or something you’ve felt that also didn’t last.
Copyright © 1992 by Lloyd Schwartz. From Goodnight, Gracie (The University of Chicago Press, 1992)