As my neighbors grumble about the leaves covering their lawn, my boys wait wide-eyed, mighty rakes in their hands. The time is here; our delicate Japanese maple has finally shed enough of her red robe for a ginormous leaf pile.
Our maple stands on duty, everyday, a quiet nanny to a neighborhood of fast friends. She stoops down low for even the smallest of sneakers to scale and reaches high enough for the bigger kids to walk on air. As the seasons move past, dependable and reassuring, she's alive in our photos: summer kids dangling like earrings from her limbs, green leaf stew at her feet. There are winter snowmen around her waist and a count down to Christmas in her ears.
But her infamous time of year is Now, when ruby-red leaves dance and drop from her skies. The dogwood nearby offers a generous contribution and the old oak by the street throws in her golden leaves. But no one is fooled. We all know who is really Queen of Autumn.
"We can rake now, right Mom?" my ten-year-old asks as he watches a squirrel tight rope through our bare maple. "Yup we definitely have enough leaves," I answer, as he breaks for the garage. "C'mon Ky, let's get the rakes!" My six-year-old scurries behind him, a bagel in hand, no shoes on his feet.
I grab my camera and step out front, as long rake handles appear first. They bob above our front bushes, taller than both boys combined. As the work begins, our maple occasionally catches their hair in her branches or snags the wooden handles. Nothing inconveniences the boys, though, as they move with purpose and enthusiasm. Spencer tugs at the glorious crimson carpet, sweat beading on his forehead, as our maple issues oxygen and inhales CO2 in a beautiful exchange.
From across the street, our twin nine-year-old neighbors, Manuela and Thomas, spot the fun and rush to join the leaf brigade. Thomas refuels the effort where Ky has petered out. "We can make a pile as high as the house!" he yells with glee. Spencer's tired rake is reluctantly passed off to Manuela, who moves with invigorating new purpose. A monstrous pile is built. My maple and I smile with motherly pride.
"I jump first!" Spence yells. "Second!" Ky pipes in. "Third!" "Fourth!" Thomas and Manuela add. Our eight-year-old neighbor Danny suddenly runs into the yard yelling, "Sixth!"
I balance my smiling camera as Bill comes to enjoy the spectacle. Like our maple, we stand ready for the joy ahead, for snuggling in next year's shade, for the long upward climb. We watch as Spence backs way up to begin his debut run. He takes off with a bang and then, with an enormous leap and a giggly shout, he dives head first into the autumn womb.
With laughter spilling around like sunshine, I feel reconnected with it all. The smell, the crunch, the appreciation of a world breathing in and out. I have the boys to thank. They won't let their childhood pass us by too quickly. At least not today.
Soon our maple will be hailing the holidays, branches lined with elegant white snow. Although I may get distracted by the busyness, scurrying to get it all done, I can count on our maple to etch our lives in peace.
In the years ahead, as our sons find new joy and work in this world, Bill and I just want to be there with them, celebrating each new season. All the while we'll remember the days of autumn leaf piles when friends and family (and an elegant Japanese maple) were there to steady our souls.