October has always been my favorite month. Kicking through huge, red and orange maple leaves as I ran around the schoolyard with the other kids in the afternoon, I breathed in that dusty, musky scent. I fell in love with the sound, smell and sight of them from that moment forward.
That same autumn, I took some of the leaves home and sat at the dining room table with old newspapers and a bottle of metallic gold model enamel. Carefully, I would dip my brush in and lay the tip gently on the ribs of it's fragile back. After the ribs were done, I gently traced the outside edges and then left them to dry. My grandmother used them to decorate the house that year.
When we moved to Utah in 1972, I remember the first autumn leaves that I saw come at the mid-point of August. One morning I looked up at Wasatch Mountain from our old house on 5th West in Provo, now long gone. On the top of the mountain was a patch of brilliant, scarlet blazing out as if it had been recently painted there. I asked our neighbor about it. He said it was the scrub oak turning color. Having been a San Francisco kid, I had never experienced the change of seasons, and had never seen the colors that accompanied it. Within two weeks the entire mountain range had turned red as if it were bleeding. Then the aspens joined in, patchworking the range with brilliant hues of orange and yellows mellowing into soft golds and russets.
The accompanying smells of the over ripe unpicked and fallen apples on the ground in the neighbors orchard, blended with the crisping leaves of the cottonwoods and dead tall grass. In the late afternoon heat, the fragrence was hypnotic. The neighbor next door had neglected his apple orchard for quite awhile. The trees got watered, but that was about it. I would slowly walk down the long drive, passing the rose garden and the pumpkins and squash on my way to the old out buildings. There I would cross through the sagging, wooden gate to the irrigation ditch. It was little more than a lazy running creek. I'd hop the ditch and sit under the low hanging, untended apple tree closest to me, finding an apple or two that hadn't gotten wormy and I'd munch. Even warm, they were juicy and sweet. It was cool in this spot due to so much branch overhang. The grass was tall, dusty, yellow and soft. It was easy to bend over and make a comfy hide-y hole to sit and think, read, and write. A couple of times, I dozed off and found myself in the dark, awakened by the chill of the evening coming on. Finding my way home in the dark was a little tricky at that point, but I only got wet a couple of times. After that I learned to take a flashlight with me, just in case.
In college, we were still in Provo, but I was living in a different part of town. Every morning on my way to class, I would pass by the old BYU Academy Building on University Avenue. There the large Horse Chestnuts would be dropping their leaves and fruits. The trees fascinated me as did the spicky husks of the nuts. I would collect pockets of them and put them on the window sill of my room with other little stones and bits of bric-a-brac I had discovered on previous walks. The trees added to the in general spookiness of the old Academy building. It had fallen into a state of disrepair at that time and was no longer being used. I have since learned that the building has been restored, but sadly all of the beautiful horse chestnuts and other trees that had graced it's grounds have been removed. Such a pity.
Whether it is raining and I'm mashing the leaves under my feet on my way to somewhere, or crunching them in heated afternoon of Indian Summer, I still love the autumn leaves.