Before sunrise this morning, there was a briskness which I breathed deeply. It reminded me of fall. Late fall, to be exact. Maybe even post-Halloween, when temperatures surprise you with their lowness. The kinds of temps which, in Tennessee, one doesn’t expect until December. I worried my flannel-shirt-and-hoodie combo wouldn’t be enough, but I also knew the temperature was going to rise at least twenty degrees, and I was only going to be outside from the garage to the car.
When I rounded the back-left corner of my RAV4, moving to the side where no light from the house reaches, a pale sliver of white—incorporeal-seeming in the pre-dawn black—scurried off soundlessly down the grassy alley formed by ours and our neighbor’s fences. It was as if a fuzzy rectangle of moonlight had freed itself from the ground and broken into a full sprint. I decided it must be a rabbit. We know they’ve birthed at least two litters in the backyard, if nests found while mowing count as evidence. Once on a separate night, I walked out into the backyard and was startled, as something apparently alive shot off in a blur from the shadows behind my boys’ swingset. This, too, had to have been a rabbit.
The odd thing, however, is that despite all evidence these dark encounters were with rabbits, I still felt that little rush of a touch with the unknown, because I couldn’t see them well enough to make a positive identification. On both occasions, all I could sense were fast movements and pale blurs. Perhaps a primordial fear of the supernatural tried to overcome my good sense, but I resisted it by telling myself they were only rabbits. Or perhaps the unseasonably cold temperature had me in a spooky frame of mind, mentally somewhere in the vicinity of Halloween, which is a place I tend to hang out anyway.
Flitting, twirling, and fluttering are words used to describe what leaves do in a strong wind. But not only are these terms limited and worn from overuse, they’re a bit dainty. They could just as well describe a ballerina. By contrast, what happens to leaves in November is more violent: the ones still clinging to their branches undergo quite a thrashing.
Yet any alternative description I can muster is either too wordy or inaccurate: thin, dry wafers oscillating on threads (Wafers? that’s not right; oscillating? too grandiose.); medallions spinning and flashing (too clunky and metallic, though a little poetic); ripples baring their pale undersides at lightning speed (awfully wordy and more suggestive of water). But these are leaves I’m talking about! All my metaphors imply something other than leaves. Do you see the challenge here?
Writing creatively about wind in trees is hard. One could zoom out and take in the larger form, describing how a great tree sways: somnambulantly from side-to-side, as if dragged back-and-forth through water; bowing in obeisance to Aeolus, the keeper of the winds. (Bow is a good way to describe what a bough does in a strong wind—wink, wink.) One could toss about words like bluster and gale. But now we’re talking more about wind and less about leaves.
One could try and capture the sound, likening it to the hiss of a hundred streams, sustained in the undulating branches above. But there’s that recourse to water again. Or maybe a host of small pages flapping in the breeze. But do pages suggest leaves?
I turned off my radio because I noticed the tips of the trees were already bare in many places. All across their tops the sunlight was catching them in a way that softened them like the bristles of a baby’s hairbrush, except wavier and stretched wide as the land–an earthwide undulation of soft, orange-pink bristles. And I turned the radio off because I wanted to listen to the trees, which is another way of saying I wanted to listen to nothing, because nature doesn’t talk to us: a leaf falls, and we call it an omen. We pick it up; turn it in our hands; roll our mind over its veins and across its papery flesh behind a dry fingertip, searching and searching for meaning, and when the meaning doesn’t come we create it: this is the sacred work of the artist. And aren’t those bristles lovely.