Sunday, October 5, 2008

Leaf Season

The things I love most about autumn are with me today. In a donut shop downtown, I sit at the window, the sun frequently bursts over my shoulder to light the page of my book and heats my back. Stray leaves tumble through the open door on this bright and exceptionally windy fall day. It might be unseasonably warm, or maybe it's the humidity; maybe it's just the window seat. The leaves still hang from branches outside, creating an illusion of perpetual sunset. Next to me is a father of two. He's treating his kids to donuts while they run a few Saturday errands, and then they'll spend the rest of the afternoon flying kites.

The way everything is so exciting to them--the old sci-fi flick silently playing on the TV, the familiar song on the radio, the rows of delicacies in the display--reminds me about the way Saturdays were growing up. Today actually feels much like the Saturday five years ago when I drove to Whitworth University. I was buying tickets for the Jars of Clay/Caedmon's Call concert that would be on campus a few weeks later. Driving out Division St., to the campus that lay just north of downtown Spokane, made me feel like I was living a life completely separate from the one I had led up to that point. Everything was lit in amber. From the campus trees to the city streets, I can only remember the excursion in shades of sepia.

Like a parallel memory, this last year I visited another small college campus. Only this time, replace Spokane with Portland. Replace Whitworth with Reed College, and replace my mom with my roommate. But everything else is the same. The leaves are the same puberty of green to brown, as unevenly matured on the branches as high school students, the green ones envious, intimidated even, by the crisp appearance of the red ones. The tingling in my ribs is the same pitch and frequency. Everything is equally beautiful.

Rewind even further to Saturdays as a child. Before working at the library, before I was old enough to watch shows like Saturday Night Live, when homework came in negligible amounts, there were Saturdays when my only responsiblities included straightening my room, cleaning half the bathroom, and vacuuming the living room. I'd get a $5 allowance. The sun warmed our gold shag carpet in contrast to the brisk winds outside that carried away the milky veins of smoke from the burning leaf pile that my brother and I helped my dad rake together. Candles made the house smell like pumpkin; the crockpot was filled with stew. My brother and I each had to take a bath before we all watched Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and I was in bed before 10pm.

Today feels a lot like that. Autumn always feels that way, but I miss wedging into a corner of the couch with a book, smelling mom's stew. I never really flew kites with my dad, and burning leaf piles hasn't been legal in at least ten years. I miss more sunsets now because I no longer live in a house with a big, westward-facing picture window. But the thing about autumn is the same thing about Saturday, and it's the same thing about sunsets and about rainy days. It's nostalgic. It's idyllic. What it is comes naturally to a place like Bellingham, where it's rainy much of the year, where Saturdays occur as frequently as anywhere else, and the comparatively mild climate can make any day seem like October 3rd. And when it all comes together, on a day very much like today, I feel home.