I am not sure where the clouds came from or when the weather changed. My drive home was blessedly shorter than usual, the sun bright over the mountains, the afternoon heat holding steady but somehow lovely blowing through my open windows. It was a leisurely drive and I was looking forward to getting home to Roo, to walk down The Wrangle to the small enclosed dog park at the end of the property. School has started and the Soccer Hoards have invaded our park again, which means no more chasing the ball until after the sun has set, quiet has reclaimed the land and they have retreated back into their caves. The Wrangle, though, is a quiet spot, small but shady, cool with long grass and well protected from the evening heat. We do not go there often, especially in the summer, when we have the wide open fields of the park to run across, so it's sometimes a treat to sit on the lone bench and watch Duncan be a dog without my interference.
On our way down the sloped hillside of The Wrangle, under the twisted pine which bends over the path, forming a sort of arched doorway, a sweet-smelling wind picked up, shaking the leaves of the Elms and Ash above us, obscuring the sky. The temperature dropped quickly and as the clouds moved in, the hillside turned dark, the kind of light that changes the world from color to black and white. The trees and shrubs and grass lost their green, became silhouettes of themselves against the grey above and behind them.
We stood a moment feeling as Dorothy must have after departing the dazzle of Oz and finding herself back in the black and white sepia of Kansas, all color gone, with only the safety of home and family to comfort her. And then a curious thing happened. A single shaft of brilliant gold penetrated the glade at the exact moment a lone and tumbling leaf toppled from a bough above. It had belonged to an elm, which are always the first to give in, changing and falling long before the others decide the time has come. As it spun earthward, its shape bending the air around it, fluttering and spinning as it went, the wind shifted direction and quieted, rose from below as if exhaled from the damp, dark earth, caught the leaf and suspended it mere feet from where I stood and watched. It hovered a moment then dropped suddenly, reeling in circles, then was lifted up again, bobbing before my eyes, a splendid nugget of color in the bland wash of evening. Duncan leapt up, pulling gently on his leash, his tail dancing behind him as he attempted to catch it. The breeze played with us, bouncing the leaf just above his nose and smiling face, pulling it up, up and out of his reach, then dropping it again. Duncan barked softly at it and chased it as the wind whipped it away, pulling it over the grassy slope, its fluttering gold fierce and defiant in the dimness around us, back under the bent pine and toward a narrow clearing where it hung a moment longer then dropped silently and without spectacle to the moist bed of grass below.
This is how Autumn begins. This is how Once-Leaves are born. It shone brightly a moment longer, and then as the sun was pulled behind the mountains, the gold of its life faded and silence claimed it. Roo sniffed at it once, pondered its sudden stillness and then moved on, pulling me after him.