By Carolina Elizabeth Conway
When I remember my childhood, I remember it in autumnal shades of orange and yellow. Although I know I made fond memories from all four seasons, I’ve somehow set them all to a pervasive backdrop of fall leaves and crisp air. Memories are odd that way in their ability to transcend time. Maybe it’s just that I prefer to remember my home at its best: mountains painted warmly with crimson and amber, crisp air and clear skies, the magic of festivals and being outside and climbing apple trees and feeling the tips of your ears chill.
One of my most distinct memories, which is surely set in October, is of chasing colored leaves as they fell and trying to catch them in my small hands before they touched the ground. Doing so would bring good luck for the rest of the year, as I had learned from my favorite VHS tape, “The Adventures of Mouse and Mole.” I watched this video collection with my dad repeatedly and we laughed at the ridiculous yet comforting depiction of friendly furry creatures dressed in sweater vests and spectacles. In one episode, Mouse and Mole twirl through the fall forest trying to catch a leaf until eventually Mole dives for a rosy maple and rips his pants on a thornbush in the process. I, as a young child, soon realized that Mouse and Mole were right. Catching a falling leaf is harder than it looks!
Maybe these memories are why fall always makes me homesick. It’s the most nostalgic season by far. Sure, winter has its own holiday magic and summer holds a certain wistfulness, but the very principle of fall is the fleeting nature of its beauty. Thoreau wrote, “How pleasant to walk over beds of these fresh, crisp, and rustling fallen leaves…. How beautiful they go to their graves!” Thoreau was right-- seeing leaves fall to the ground, albeit pleasant, is to witness an act of death. Inherent in autumn’s glory is its demise.
It’s uncomfortable to me that death can be beautiful. It’s supposed to be grotesque like the skeletons and ghosts displayed at Halloween, or empty like the frost-covered pastures of winter. Not wonderful. Not a process I seek out with my car on long drives to the mountains or hikes to get above the treeline. And yet I’m drawn to it in the same way I imagine all of the best things in my life happening in autumn. It’s indulgent to freely chase falling leaves as a kid, knowing that next season you’ll be a year older and who knows if you’ll have time for chasing leaves. Somehow I knew, even back then, that like the changing seasons I would change too. Growing up is as inevitable as the descent of November foliage.
And, of course, I did grow up. Luckily I find myself now at a college that has topped the list of “50 Most Beautiful Colleges in the Fall,” but I still find myself craving the sort of autumn I loved as a kid. Driven by this nostalgia, I went home to the farm a few weeks ago, where the leaves had already changed color. While I was there I went on a walk with my dad, catching him up on my college life as we strolled through the sepia forest. I told him about my academics, my planned travels next semester, the outdoor adventure trips I had recently gone on for my job, the careers I was thinking about for the future.
In the midst of our conversation, a gust of wind jostled the limbs of the trees and caused a group of newly-orange leaves to catch air. Instinctively, I stuck my arms out like a child. My dad grinned.
“You’d better catch it,” he said, “It’s good luck.”
And there I was, arms outstretched, chin tilted up, stumbling my way into the ditch after a little leaf. Maybe, I thought to myself, the magic isn’t quite dead after all.