The View From Planet Kerth: Seeing the ‘season’ through a single, perfect leaf
No offense to all my Naples neighbors, but there’s something sad about measuring seasons by how long it takes to get through that traffic light at Airport Pulling Road, or how many people stand in line ahead of you at Texas Roadhouse when they open at 4 pm.
“Ugh,” you sigh, as you sit behind that Lexus with the Ohio plates, or stand behind that elderly couple at Publix, their shopping cart loaded with a three-month’s supply of Charmin, Honey Bunches of Oats, and Ritz crackers. “The season has begun,”
As a homeowner in Naples, I get it. The rhythm of life changes when “Snowbird Season” descends in full force in January. You can catch a few whiffs of it in the air as early as Thanksgiving, or even Halloween.
But as a Naples resident who is also a homeowner in northern Illinois, I can’t help but scoff at the notion of Southwest Florida “season change” when I’m hanging strings of icicle-light decorations on a sweaty December day at my Naples home.
Because if you really want to see what “season change” is all about, head north.
As you read this, the seasonal change is in full force in the northern states, and it has been for a month or more. I spent much of the past several weeks awash in it, driving along wooded Wisconsin roads ablaze with color, or standing on the shore in southwest Michigan as near-freezing winds lashed the rocky beachfront. After returning from a jaunt on the road just last week, I noticed that my front-yard maple had gone from dark green to deep crimson in the four days I was away.
And just last Saturday, the first snow flurries lashed the air, hard enough for me to make my first snowballs of the season — a tradition I cherish.
It is such season-change moments that remind a Northerner that there is not a minute to waste.
By mid-October, for example, the ancient oaks behind my Illinois house are stripped more than halfway naked by the early-morning frosts and howling winds. The water tower to the southeast is a significant horizon landmark by then — invisible all summer until just a week earlier, cloaked by a thick blanket of oak leaves standing between us. And by Halloween, the oak trees are naked altogether and will stand that way until spring, their stunning architecture laid bare to the sky.
But if I’m not mindful of those sudden seasonal changes, I would miss another important tradition I try to honor each fall.
Because each year in mid-October, I go out into the yard on a windy day and try to catch a falling leaf before it hits the ground. And when I catch one, I carry it carefully indoors and save it.
In the North, at autumn’s season-change, the time must come for all leaves to meet their common fate, to fall to the ground and there to return to the soil — but not this one leaf that I snatch from the air. This single perfect leaf, born on a branch high above the ground, knowing nothing but sky, will never touch the ground. It will rest in a basket by the window, and there it will sit through the winter as snow blankets the yard and forest just beyond the pane.
Like the leaves, the seasons will move me, too, and I will flutter southward to Naples, where people think in an entirely different way of the changes that come with another “season.”
Fall asleep on a Chicago beach in August and awaken in November, and you’ll know what “season change” really means. But do it in Naples and all you’ll notice is that your tan has deepened somewhat.
No, to see the August-to-November change in southwest Florida, you’d have to fall asleep in a Walmart, where shoppers drive on a 90-degree November day to carry home Thanksgiving images of crimson leaves, golden corn stalks, and frost-dusted pumpkins to decorate the house—all of it as out of place in Naples as moon rocks would be. And then in December it’s faux icicles and snowmen, as shoppers drop off their decorations at home and dash out to enjoy one more upper-80’s day on the beach before the “season” brings the crowds for the “winter.”
Go ahead, call me a hypocrite, because I’ll be that guy sitting on the beach-towel next to you in December, enjoying one more quiet day on the sand before the full “season” comes to make it all a bit more crowded and hectic. But I’ll be enjoying the change of seasons in a different way than you are enjoying it.
Because I know that I’ll head north again in the spring, where plants have slumbered through six icy months and are just beginning to awaken once more. In early May there will still be a chill in the air. The oaks behind my house will still be naked, or nearly so with the first green buds just starting to swell. There will be no leaves on the oaks. Not yet.
But I will stand by the window in early May, twirling last October’s dry, brown oak leaf in my fingers, that single perfect leaf that never knew the ground. And that rescued leaf will be, for me, the promise of greenery to come.
“Soon … soon,” I will mutter to the naked branches shivering in the chill air, knowing that by mid-June they will be cloaked in green abundance once again, however briefly it may last.
Because I know (as all Northerners know) that seasons really do change, in ways more dramatic than mere traffic, and it would be a shame to have to go to Walmart to find it—or to miss any dramatic, stunning moment of those relentless changes dashing past my window just because I wasn’t paying attention.
The author splits his time between Southwest Florida and Chicago. Not every day, though. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Why wait a whole week for your next visit to Planet Kerth? Get T.R.'s book, 'Revenge of the Sardines,' available now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine online book distributors.