Dead leaves, exhumed by late-winter sun and resurrected by the wind, twist against a sky that feels like a low ceiling. Several among them, in a desperate rejection of the finality of autumn, leap toward barren branches as if they could go home again. It’s enough to break your heart.
That’s what the man thinks, anyway. The dog at his side is too overwhelmed by roadside smells to extract symbolism from the rise and fall of leaves. Unlike the man, she is neither middle-aged nor introspective. He wishes he was a little more like the dog in age and self-possession, but then he watches as she unearths god knows what and devours it. If that’s where blissful detachment leads, he would rather chew on melancholia.
This is all happening in the early morning on a back road in Epsom. It is the kind of road that leads everywhere if you live on it and nowhere if you don’t. For the man and the dog, it is the stretch of earth where most of their days begin. One of them never grows bored of the repetition but the other is grateful that white is giving way to brown and soon green, even if it seems to be happening too quickly. That reminds one of them of a time when warmer temperatures didn’t feel like dark foreshadowing.
Most years, the change of seasons plays out like a purely dynamic transition. Every day smells and feels a bit different than the one that came before, or so it seems, and that creates the dual sensation of emergence and entrance. Maybe it’s American politics or the state of the world in general, but this winter-into-spring feels more like a fixed moment in time, a season of its own. If any year deserved a never-ending season of in-between, it’s this one.
The man used to rip dead leaves from the cold grip of the wind, only he wasn’t a man then. On a day like this, when the March wind rakes across the earth with a pace just short of violence, the boy would choose one leaf out of hundreds and track it across the gray backdrop until it was in his hand or gone forever. That is what he is thinking about as he and the dog climb the last hill before home. The man isn’t drifting toward sentimentality – who has time for that? – but he remembers the feeling of the chase and it makes him smile.
Hours later, when the man sits down to write, he wonders whether the dog thinks everybody like him is crazy, the people who spend hours in front of glowing screens and call it a life. What would the dog think if she knew that some of them even spend chunks of their day silently yelling, by way of their keyboards, at enemies who aren’t their enemies and to friends who aren’t their friends?
But the man knows that his whole line of thinking is flawed. The dog doesn’t care how the people spend their time as long as they don’t forget to feed her or take her for walks on quiet roads in Epsom, or on that trail in Northwood, or in that Concord park where all of the ducks eat white bread all day.
For what it’s worth, the man doesn’t think everybody is crazy for living their lives in front of glowing screens. Not really, anyway. It’s the world we live in.
But he can’t help thinking about those dead leaves twisting against a low sky. He wonders whether he could still pick one out of the crowd and track it until it fell into his hand. He wonders if tomorrow might be a good day to try.