Daughter teaches dad how to catch leaves and stop time
Ever catch leaves? It’s damn fun, the kind of fun only a five-year-old daughter can get me to have.
There’s a cul-de-sac on our walk home from school, an island with a few sparse pine trees and a dead ash tree, ringed by four driveways and century-old maples, elms, and oaks. The kids call it the donut, and since it’s where the kids learned to ride bikes without training wheels (the circle shape and the sloping grade of the road made it ideal for learning to turn), and since it’s where they stop to wrestle, it might become, in memory, a landmark of their childhood. Growing up we had these towering spruce trees that flanked our driveway like sentinels. In the winters we would crawl inside it to the roomy opening by the trunk, blocked from the wind and the cold. It became our fort for restocking snowballs and planning attacks.
Nostalgia may be why my favorite part of the Midwest is the seasons, the hot wet days of summer bleeding into long endless nights, the spring rains that trigger a slow motion explosion of nature, the drab winter months when life is insulated by the people closest to you and snowfall is a sort of celebration. It’s all about the trees here. So autumn wears the crown of the Midwest’s natural world; sweatshirt and campfire and football season, when the windchills and torrents and humidity and bugs and all the bullshit of the other seasons is suspended, when even the cold November rain smells good. Autumn is even better with kids.
The first time she stopped at the donut, the wind was making it rain leaves from the tall maple trees that shroud the street. She tried catching one, I thought it was cute, then I checked my messages. I had work to do. I pestered her to get moving. Then she caught one, on a zig zag irregular and unpredictable pattern; we both cheered and she handed it to me to put in my pocket. She asked to help. So I did. We staggered like drunks, shadow boxing an invisible menace, catching manna from heaven.
Falling leaves rarely travel in a discernible pattern. Sometimes they’re inches from your fingertips and blow away; other times they rock right into your cradle. In the past week it has become a pastime, a part of our routine. I make time for it. Like the seasons, leaf catching came upon us suddenly, and watching the leaves fall from the trees, and watching her dart around trying to catch them, I’m reminded that this moment, like the fall, is ephemeral, and just like this maple will lose its leaves, this game will lose its charm, and this moment will be memory. So my pockets, for now, are filled with leaves.