recess radio program

10/12/06
Autumn Leaves
    by Kevin Shortsleeve

Growing up in New England, a child develops a special relationship to autumn leaves. It's impossible not to. If you've never seen the fall in New England, it is difficult to describe how vibrant the colors are. 'Round about September 15th as the leaves in the trees turn from deep green to light green, people begin to make predictions about the coming bloom. Theories are posited about summer rain and its relation to autumn colors. Folks will tell you that summer rains need to fall just so, and just at the right moments, to make for the ideal burst of autumn hues.

By the end of these discussions, the leaves have moved to pale yellow, and the true explosion of color is close at hand. Television weathermen begin to make predictions showing us animated charts of the band of color that is marching slowly south down out of the north woods. In peak, usually around Columbus Day weekend, the bright oranges, flaming reds and otherworldly yellows can do nothing but bedazzle those who gaze in wonder at them. These leaves seem to glow from inside, and the New England woods are illuminated like a brightly decorated birthday cake. For a child watching this transformation, nature itself is celebratory, perfectly augmenting the festive atmosphere of autumn fairs and apple picking.

As the leaves begin to fall, children frantically gather up the best specimens, taking up these temporary jewels and trying to preserve them by dousing them in lacquer or pressing them in to dictionaries. Now walking home from school becomes a great noisy game of leaf kicking. And then, inevitably, it's time to pay the piper, and the raking begins.

Raking autumn leaves is at once a great labor and a fun-filled fall frolic. For once you've raked dry autumn leaves into a big pile, then you have no choice but to jump in it. And when you jump in a big pile of leaves and lose yourself in a sea of brown and yellow, and breath deeply of that woody fragrance, you are promised something, promised that the triumvirate of holidays, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are not far away. The day after raking, kids line up at the bus stop, bragging and rolling their eyes about how many bags of leaves they stuffed. Floppy scarecrows dangle about in various poses on front lawns. And the children pull their scarves a little tighter, and think about the leaves, and the passing year.

Copyright 2006 Kevin Shortsleeve

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"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."