Catching leaves as they fall

We caught our first leaves of the season yesterday. The conditions, as they say, were perfect: trees at the first peak of color, a good breeze, flat and easy terrain, and three children (and a mom) with a few minutes to spare.

On Wednesdays, I pick up the kids at school and bring Ursula and her friend Kirsten to a clarinet lesson. (Virgil tags along more or less happily, depending.) Their teacher uses a back room in an old church. I know it’s an old church because the trees that surround it are massive old specimens — thick-trunked oaks and majestic maples that must be at least a hundred years old and may even have been planted before the Civil War. The kids had gone to bed on Tuesday night to the sound of rain against the house and were pelted by more rain on their way into school on Wednesday morning. A thunderstorm spoiled their recess. So when we emerged from the music lesson into a break in the rain, we lingered in the church parking lot, lifting our faces to the warm breeze.

Ursula noticed the leaves first. The wind was shaking them loose from one of the grand oaks on the other side of the nearly empty lot and blowing them our way in erratic swirls and roller-coaster loop-de-loops. She took off after a single yellow leaf that had separated from a limb high in the tree and was twirling almost in place high above our heads. “I have it! I have it!” she cried, positioning herself directly below the leaf. But it spun out at a wild angle, and even though Ursula raced to catch it, the leaf skittered to the pavement ten feet away. She pulled up, laughing, and scanned the trees again.

The next gust sent a small detachment of yellow and brown leaves out into the air, and all three children stretched their arms up over their heads, palms open wide, trying to catch the whirling leaves before they touched ground. I had errands to do; the kids had homework and tests to study for. But after watching them for a few moments and hearing their laughter, I joined in, too. My chosen leaf flitted this way and nosedived that way; trying to stay with it from below, I found myself flitting and diving along with it, and giggling so hard that I had no breath left for a final burst of speed. The leaf fluttered to the ground just out of reach.

We stayed there for maybe 15 minutes. In spite of what I said at the beginning of this essay, I don’t know if any of us actually caught a leaf. We caught something, though: a chance to match wits with the wind, to make leaves into playmates, to give ourselves over to joy and to the season, too. When we got back into the car, I turned around and saw three smiling, flushed faces. I knew mine looked the same. Leaf-catching: It’s good for the soul.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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