There is a sumac tree along the highway near my house, nestled among a grove of trees hanging over the road.
At least, I think it’s a sumac. Back in the 1970s, every seventh-grader at Southern Junior High School was required to do a leaf collection. We rode our bicycles or walked all over Owensboro, carefully selecting specimens of the ubiquitous silver and sugar maples, searching for the elusive ginkgo, agonizing over the hard-to-identify pines, surreptitiously trading redbuds for dogwoods during study hall.
It still bugs me, 41 years later, that I got the worst grade of my scholastic career – a D – on an assignment that I honestly enjoyed.
But Mrs. Rumage’s tough grading scale aside, I notice that sumac every time I drive down the highway. It has one limb in particular that catches my eye, because for some reason, the leaves on this singular branch turn bright red, all at once, weeks earlier than any other leaves in town start to turn color.
A red flag of color in a field of green, signaling to anyone paying attention that summer is drawing to a close – autumn is near.
There’s a reason autumn is the most popular season of the year. In fact, there are a lot of reasons, as many as there are colors of the trees.
Is there anything more hopeful, more exciting, than those Friday night lights? Sitting in the bleachers cheering for our local high school teams, moms with afghans in school colors tucked around their legs, dads “coaching” from the sidelines as they trade memories from their own glory days. On the hillside behind the goalposts, little boys are tossing wobbly passes and scoring their own touchdowns while casting an admiring glance at the big boys out on the field … and the little girls practice cartwheels and cheers: “Bang bang, choo-choo train, come on team, do your thing!”
Sure, summer afternoons take the credit for grilling burgers and brats, but the real fun starts when the sun – and the thermostat – go down. There’s nothing cozier than sitting around a firepit in the backyard, or gathering around a blazing bonfire if you live in the country, laughing and talking with family and friends. Sparkling embers take the place of lightning bugs on these cooler evenings, and the background is filled with the sound of laughter as children play hide-go-seek in the dusky shadows. As the darkness grows deeper, the little ones tuck themselves close to their parents, snuggling in Mommy’s lap or nestled next to Daddy on the big log, listening – sleepy-eyed and content – to stories shared by the grown-ups in the fire’s golden glow.
Hiking and Biking
Outdoor exercise is a fun family activity any time of the year, but especially during autumn when the humidity has lifted (well, mostly, anyway). Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons are the perfect time for a family walk, on the Greenbelt, at the park or just through your neighborhood. Or strap on those helmets, tighten up the training wheels and enjoy a leisurely ride through the autumn landscape. Wave at neighbors – whether you know them or not. Smile at babies in their strollers. Pet dogs on their leashes. What a wonderful way to feel more connected to your community!
Autumn is a celebration for the senses! Owensboro’s green landscape gives way to bright colors of yellow, red, orange and russet. Maybe we’re not allowed to burn leaves in town anymore, but the scent of crisp apples, tangy cinnamon and warm, hearty “comfort foods” still fills the air – and our tummies! Even chores are fun, as the whole family pitches in to rake leaves in the backyard. The little ones tumble into piles of leaves, shrieking with laughter as Daddy tosses another big armful of leaves on top of them. (He never seems to mind that he has to rake up the same leaves over and over again!) And how fun to drive through town admiring the decorations of cornstalks, mums, pumpkins, gourds and haybales in our neighbors’ yards.
Memories of the Past, Hope for the Future
At the same time I was collecting leaves for that seventh-grade science project, our English teacher was introducing us to the poems of Emily Dickinson. We talked a lot about the “seasons of life.” We were springs, looking forward to the summer we could see on the horizon, but winter was so far away we couldn’t even imagine it. But now that I have arrived at the autumn of life … with all its memories, experiences, dreams, hopes and promises … I realize this really is the best season of all.
By Lora Wimsatt. Lora Wimsatt is a mother, grandmother and writer. She enjoys the everyday blessings and adventures of life, especially her family.