I’ve been participating in this outstanding Writing Workshop offered by the outstanding folks at TweetSpeak Poetry, so most of my writing lately has been in the form of completing assignments for that class. Sharing some of my homework with you here today– our assignment: Notice. Feel free to grade my work
As soon as I stepped outside I recognized it. The air was crisp and clear, the sky a color I’ve come to think of as September 11th Blue—that perfect shade which doesn’t exist within a box of 64 Crayolas and against which horror had once been painted in the sky. A wooly bear caterpillar inched his way across my driveway and an errant pansy dangled from my mailbox planter not knowing, I guess, whether the cold weather was leaving or just arriving. The chill in the air told me summer was gone for good, and the unmistakable scent of fall added its punctuation mark.
“What does fall smell like? How do I describe it?” I wondered as I walked past clumps of fern—or are they called bracken? Their leaves, tinged with hints of yellow and gold, had just begun to whither. I guessed their decay contributed one component to the blend I’ve come to recognize as the scent of fall. A few downed pine needles and cast-off maple leaves added elements as well, I supposed. Acorns and hickory nuts stripped of their husks and crushed into pavement by passing tires released their fragrance which blended into the mix.
The smell of fall had taken me by surprise just a few days earlier as I had been chasing a young boy around the grounds outside my church. He had grown restless sitting at a table with his parents and other grown-ups who were talking about boring grown-up things, and I had offered to take him for a walk. Following his lead, I explored corners of the church property I’d never set foot on in the nearly thirty years I’d been a member there.
He followed the edge of the woods which bordered the church property, looking for pathways and trails which might lead him into the trees and toward adventure. My companion pulled on a grapevine whose leaves had begun to yellow and whither, and he told me the tendrils were edible. Though the one he plucked from the vine had hardened and turned brown, my friend told me the tender green ones were quite tasty. My eyes followed the vine upward where it had wrapped itself around tree branches and trunks, and I spied a cluster of wild grapes known, perhaps, only to God, the animals who would feed on them, my playmate for the day, and me.
My friend ran and leaped from boulder to boulder on the church property and tested his balance upon a landscaping beam. He cracked open a milkweed pod and released countless white silky-threaded seeds into the fall breeze. Upon spying a pile of branches left behind from some recent tree-trimming my companion climbed beneath them, claiming them as his hovel–a den in which he would hibernate for the winter.
“I’m not Ian anymore,” he told me. “I’m a squirrel called Tree Climber.”
As I watched young Ian play, pretend and explore, I thought back to what it had been like to rake up a pile of leaves before I understood it to be work. I pictured the chestnut tree whose branches overhung the sidewalk a block away from my home and the excitement I felt when I discovered the shiny nuts had begun to fall and shed their spiky husks. Ian and his play reminded me of the loud thwack of dried field corn I used to hear hitting my porch on fall evenings, the work of early Halloween pranksters. I remembered how much I used to look forward to gathering the corn from my porch and those of my neighbors on my way to school the following day so I could go out the next evening and do some raiding of my own.
I’m not sure I can find words to describe what fall smells like, but for me there is no mistaking it. It is the smell of kicking through piles of leaves raked neatly to the curb waiting to be vacuumed up by town trucks. It is the fragrance of trick-or-treating, the very air I used to breathe from underneath a plastic Halloween mask. Fall is the aroma which surrounds kids who have no particular political affiliation or even understanding as they knock over campaign signs, just because they are there, and because it is a season for mischief.
The smell of fall may very well be made up of things which are dying and decaying, but those aren’t the things I recognize. When I walk out my front door and am greeted by the the scent of fall, I breathe in childhood and fun and play.
How would you describe the scent of fall? Do you remember the smell from inside your Halloween mask? What did yours look like? And what have you noticed today?
Joining Laura and Jen: