4:02 Text from Captain Wing, at Wing Family Central: Are you at work?
4:05 Text from Mary: Yes. Do you need something photocopied or filed?
4:07 CWWFC: No. When you are near home, please text me. We have Swiss Chard for you and Neighbor S. Don’t rush.
ETA 5:30. Leaving the office.
But… outside on the wall, the creeper vine was losing all its leaves. A wind storm was stripping our colorful trees bare. Say! Miss Rose would love those leaves. She decorates her room at any excuse for a holiday. For years, I’ve brought her installments of colorful autumn leaves for her centerpieces. Now an intuition was prompting me: “Go now! It’s on your way home. In a year you might be living somewhere else, and she is thinking of a transfer to another neighborhood. Bring her lots. Hurry up.”
Well, one leaf led to another. Look at that tree up that street! And that one there!
(By the way, behold the ergonomic setup of that truly charming campus cottage above, on a steep hilltop with a back staircase. The staircase has no external barrier. The doorway has no connecting handrail or steps. Sure, if I were stepping outside I could grab the inner handrail against the house wall, but I’d have to lie on my face to reach around for it. Wow. Who lives there — Cirque du Soleil?)
Leaves flew everywhere. I chased them through the gusts, forsaking the main streets for the brilliant fall foliage behind stately old fraternity houses with immense trees and dramatic hilltop lake mountain views. I took the old shortcuts too from street to street all the way down: flight after flight of steep old stone stairs weaving past orchards and gardens and inviting little kitchen windows and porches. The steps were thick with wet leaves like slippery cornflakes; I had to pick my way gripping low makeshift pipe rails. On lower flights there was no way to tell what was leafy muck, and what was level ground. There really was cause to be thankful that I’d left work a little early, before the dark and rain set in.
That back way cost an extra half hour, but made the walk a glorious ramble. At the bottom the wind was left behind, blustering overhead, as the trees opened out on the park. As I walked through the field, a last sunbeam turned a distant tree (maple?) bright gold.
Hold on to your hats!
In the wind and gathering dusk, storm clouds massed together. With steep altitudes and high wind and cloud cover, there was real drama in the passing changes in lighting and mood. Sometimes within minutes the landscape advanced deeper into darkness toward winter, then sprang back toward daylight and autumn. These rocking pines stood at the edge of darkening woods. This park service men’s room looked like an appealing port in a storm with its little light and green door. (My favorite art is landscapes by Maxfield Parrish, and Ivan Bilibin. This picture looks a bit like both.)
It was tricky finding the path out of the woods; it was buried under fallen leaves. I hurried as carefully as possible. There was a huge fallen log, with the stump so wide its width came up higher than my waist. I stopped to admire its deep carpet of moss and ferns before realizing that this log was once a ponderous tree toppled — by wind! At that thought I got a move on, grateful for the good counsel in the Gospel of John, 12:35: Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.
That’s for sure. What a relief to see the woods end with the footbridge over the ravine. The sun came out! That elevation over the creek far below allowed a free view of the open sky. That drop is a whole lot deeper than the picture shows; I always stay well back from that railing.
From there the way was easy going — level pavement and familiar map grid and streetlights switching on.
At The House I sanitized my hands, took my temperature, took a pen from the Clean cup, filled in the visitors’ intake form and Covid attestation, dropped the pen in the Used cup, and sanitized my hands again. The wonderful front-line staff behind the clear plastic barrier have been running interference for 21 months now, delivering messages and packages and meals 24/7 to and from residents who last year were on lockdown confined to their bedrooms. The staff greeted me warmly while disinfecting everything in sight. They made pleasant jokes about my weekly delivery of fresh foliage — which, now that I think of it, are steeped in Mother Nature’s microbes and germs. “After today,” I told them, “autumn leaves will be one more household commodity affected by shortages in our national supply distribution system.”
Miss Rose was just folding her laundry, so I texted Captain Wing with an ETA update. (“If you are outside, look up,” he texted back. “The cloud is beautiful.” Alas, the laundry room had no windows or clouds.) Then, Miss Rose maneuvered her shiny ultra-modern firetruck-red electric wheelchair into the elevator with the laundry, me, my knapsack, and my rainwear and fluorescent jacket and duffle bag of leaves. Back at her room she protested mildly at my extravagance; Miss Rose is a thrifty sort, even with free stuff picked up in an alley. “So many! I won’t have space to display them all! You ought to take some of these for yourself.”
I pointed out that there were still oodle-googles of leaves whirling around outdoors, and that now she could pick and choose the ones she liked best for her decor.
We sat and visited for just a breath-catch, and then I was on my way. Only 20 blocks to go, but now the wind was strong again and it was really dark, and half the way was straight uphill. Fortunately, I chased and caught a bus east for 10 blocks. Then I chased and caught another for the 10 blocks north, texting Captain along the way, and hopped off at our corner.
He was waiting in the dark garden with a picnic basket. We walked next door to visit Neighbor S. There she and I marveled at Mrs. Wing’s harvest gift, picked that afternoon for the two of us to share: several plants of vivid magenta-red Swiss Chard, a dozen Jerusalem Artichokes apiece, and two bowls of more ‘chokes sautéed and seasoned, still warm and fragrant. While S. and I divided the bounty, Captain headed straight for the balcony, saying “Now to fix that drainage problem.” Neighbor S’s outdoor herbs are getting too much rain. So, Captain picked up every single potted plant, placed coins to surround and prop up the drainage holes, set them back in their planters, and then for each plant he took heavy foil and molded little coverlets for the stem base as a canopy. “Less water in, more drainage out,” he explained. “And here is a supply of foil in case you need more.” Now S. can enjoy her outdoor herbs well into the winter.
As Captain and I headed downstairs I told him about Miss Rose’s red firetruck. “The scooter chair is so large and so heavy that it can’t be lifted into a passenger car. That means she can’t visit children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren for the holidays.”
“No visit from Grandma?!” he exclaimed. “No way. What make and model of wheelchair?”
“Ooh, sorry. I wouldn’t know from one wheelchair to another if it ran over my foot.”
“Could the chair be folded up?”
“No, that’s the problem. It’s powered with little stick controls and weighs hundreds of pounds.”
“If I were her child, I would just buy an old schoolbus and fix it up with a lift.”
(He means it. His buddy salvaged a vintage ambulance, and the two men turned it into a dream of a recreational vehicle for the friend’s whole family.)
“If you were all of our children,” I told him, “this would be a different world.”
“I didn’t know you were visiting The House today! Next time, introduce me to your friend. I want to meet her and see this chair for myself.”
He took the empty chard basket and adjusted his glasses with a headshake and determined look, probably contemplating another engineering adventure.
The chard was fantastic cooked, then tossed with a puree of sardines, tomato paste, lime juice, and ginger. The sunchokes were perfect over brown rice. (Hm… maybe this weekend I can bake some kale chips with anchovy sauce and Chinese five-spice powder. The family might like those.)
A few scarlet oak leaves ended up at the bottom of my bag. They’re pressing now thanks to Neighbor S’s leaf-pressing kit. In a day or so they will look pretty downstairs on our lobby table.
I loved reading this account of your adventure. John 12:35 is my newest favorite thought. But noticing it about 50 years too late in my case. Thank you for tying together your autumn impressions and instó doing painting (yet) another masterpiece almost as if seen through the eyes of God!
I invented a new word “insto”
Hi Robb, I just wrote out a whole syntactic assessment of “instó,” but erased it by hitting Reply rather than Send. Will just have to email it instead. But your comment was not only characteristically thoughtful, instó heartwarming as well.