When we were young, the time of the falling leaves was a special season for our outdoor play. From the time we were big enough to hold a rake to our teen years, we found fun in the annual shedding of the tree leaves. Watching the fall breezes bring down that airborne, colorful foliage brought joy to our hearts.
The best leaves for play, of course, are those from the giant maple trees. They could be raked into huge soft piles that were ideal for "diving." Taking a fast run, leaping and then landing on the crumbling leaves provided endless fun. Our dog, Rex, often joined in the autumn fun.
The next best use of the fallen leaves was to create our "territory." We constructed "walls" of leaves, ending up with somewhat of a floor plan of our ideal residence with rooms for a kitchen, living room, bedroom, etc. Our "houses" were then connected with leaf-lined streets and walkways. When we tired of our domestic event, we turned the walls into forts and sometimes re-enacted such events as Columbus going to the Queen to get support for his discovery of America. Such imaginations, brought on by the falling leaves of fall, truly are one of the gifts of childhood.
Growing up in a small town added another dimension to the enjoyment of the autumn leaves. We raked the leaves into the gutters along the sides of the streets of Northville where they could be burned. The match was lit, usually by someone older, the leaves were touched off and the flames jumped from leaf to leaf until the "fire show" was roaring along like a lighted snake. It was an especially good event at dusk and visitors came from surrounding towns to join in the autumn show. The smell of the burning leaves engulfed the entire community and hovered in the air making a special fall memory that remains for life.
There is a famous painting that appeared annually in the magazine section of the Sunday newspapers. It was a double scene with an elderly gentleman sitting with his rake watching the burning leaves of fall. The smoke is rising over him creating a misty cloud. A small boy is standing watch nearby. The second part of the scene adds Native Americans in the surrounding mist. The title of the painting is appropriately, "Indian?Summer." Maybe, just maybe, we will have that second summer this year. Somewhere in my archives, I have copies of that scene and, since it is no longer printed on an annual basis, I should get it framed to share with my grandchildren. ("Here comes another story from when grandpa was a boy!)
It is a good thing, even though we have given up the burning of the leaves in the name of non-pollution, that we can still enjoy the colorful foliage of fall - the reds and yellows, and the purples and browns of the maple leaves on the Adirondack lowlands and mountainsides. My college science professor, Philip C. Walker, a great teacher, once wrote a scientific article for Adirondack Life Magazine, entitled "Adirondack Spectacular," on the subject of the color change in the autumn leaves. Although many believe the myth that frost creates the colors, he found, "The phenomenon of fall or autumnal coloring displayed by deciduous trees and shrubs in the temperate zones remains an 'unanswerable' in the scientific world." The mystery of the fall color change adds to that special time and, after giving a partial explanation of the colors, Professor Walker wisely concluded, "But our ignorance of nature's chemistry can never hinder our enjoyment of her Adirondack spectacular." So be it!