Once a leaf had a premonition of fall. It happened on a late August afternoon, in a fleeting epiphany that came and went with no more heralding than an equally brief chilling of the air. Certainly nothing as dramatic as the ups and downs in temperature often felt when thunderstorms rolled in at this time of year to rearrange the sky. At such times the leaf would have to hold on tight as sudden gusts raced through the orchard, wrenching fruit from every tree. Strong limbs and trunks were not safe when that happened, let alone leaves. No, the afternoon of the leaf’s premonition was very like any other during the growing season. What made the leaf sense the momentary change in the air wasn’t the change itself, in fact, but a strange whisper running through the maples higher up the slope, a rustle of red and gold where before there’d been only muted green for months. Then the rustle was gone, and the maples sank back into a deep hush. The leaf waited for the brilliance to return, hoping it would stay longer the next time. At least long enough to reveal whatever secret lay behind its power to light up an entire hillside with so much beauty and then die away. Nothing had prepared the leaf for such magnificent waste: the abrupt transformation of familiar ground into what must resemble the groves of Eden. An Eden seemingly created only to fade from view. In the days that followed, late summer steadily reasserted itself and blurred the leaf’s memory of that extraordinary afternoon. Had the maples really burst into red and gold, it mused, or was a world on fire with such beauty only a mirage? As August yielded to September and September to October without a repeat of the vision, the leaf all but gave up trying to answer the question. It ceased to care whether it could or not, also whether the other leaves on its own tree accepted what it claimed to have seen or dismissed it as an outlandish delusion. Instead, it held to what little remained of the exhilaration felt in those few moments in late August as if the feeling itself were red and gold and real enough to still all doubts. No red could be more alive or gold more lustrous, the leaf remained convinced. Instead of being parceled out over months, all the possibilities of the long season of growth stood there at once in radiant fullness: a beauty more compelling precisely because it was passing so soon. Could beauty that endured be half this bright, the leaf wondered, as it felt the chill of the October air and noticed the sky turning a crisper blue? And saw the sunlight along its own edges begin to glow as the premonition passed again through the maples above.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans