Thursday, November 9, 2017

Leaves falling like rain

     For a supposedly rational guy, I have my share of mystic habits. I will, presented with the opportunity—a clear night sky—wish upon a star. Or, after chicken, break a wishbone or, after a Chinese meal, not only read the fortune cookie fortune, which could be written off to social pressure but, if it seems propitious, also tuck it away for future private contemplation. 
     And those are the more mainstream occult rituals; I have a few kabalistic quirks that I assume are unique to myself. For instance, in the autumn, I like to catch a leaf during its transit from the tree to the ground. Meaning, while in the air—just scooping off the earth won't do. 
     Achieving this feat somehow is "good luck." I have no idea how long I have been doing it or when the tic started. It seems an artifact from a solitary boyhood spent wandering around the de-populated but treed streets of Berea, Ohio in the early 1970s. 
      Grabbing a leaf in flight is more difficult than it sounds—leaves are asymmetrical, and twist and jink their way through the air, falling as if avoiding your grip.
     Actually, "falling" is too passive a word to describe what happens to leaves in autum. Despite the season's common name "Fall," gravity isn't pulling the leaves down, nor is wind pulling the leaves off. Rather the trees are flinging them away, using special cells located where the leaf stem meets the branch called "abscission" cells, whose name shares the same root as "scissors"  and which perform the same function: cutting away the dead, no longer productive leaves so as not to sap scarce winter resources until new ones can grow in the spring.
     Whether we consider them falling or being tossed away, leaves were fluttering down in abundance Wednesday morning. Returning from my walk with Kitty, I noticed the cimmaron ash that I planted 17 years ago and has now attained a 40-foot height thanks to religious applications of expensive anti-ash borer elixir, was dropping its leaves at a prodigious rate. They fell like rain, in bunches.  I hurried over and ... 
      You know, the fall vs. cut duality is also echoed in the type of the tree: "decidious," meaning trees whose leaves fall, a word whose Latin root, cadere, to fall, is very close to cædere, which means to cut, and is the root of "decide," harkening back to when making a determination was equated to cutting through the knot of a problem.  (It's a shame it wasn't the other way around, because the "æ" in cædere is a dipthong called an ash, which would be fitting to my tree and I better stop now).
    Where were we? Ah yes, leaves, from my as-yet-unkilled ash, raining down. So much that they made noise. I positioned myself under the tree and, with golden oval ash leaves practically pelting me, raised my hands up, fingers spread, Kitty's leash looped around one wrist. The first three or four eluded me, but I managed to catch one, if "catch" isn't taking too much credit—it veered into my open hand and I closed my fist around it and snatched the thing.
    Good luck achieved, I released the leaf to join its friends and headed inside to breakfast, though not before shooting a brief video to document the phenomenon. 



  1. Funny, the same thing happened with our maple tree yesterday.

  2. There's an aerial maneuver called a "falling leaf" that involves moving the plane in a sideways arc, back and forth, while descending. It's said to be one of the hardest such maneuvers to execute.

  3. "In the fall of a leaf that is a man's life, nothing can make him happier than congenial work to do, or the reflection that congenial work has been done." Anthony Trollope

    Good job, Neil.


  4. I enjoy the Latin lesson. I think I was on the tail end of the generation that was routinely exposes to Latin (and even Greek) in high school. Unfortunately, not much of either stuck with me and I'm embarrassed when certain 19th Century authors assume a familiarity with quotes from Horace and Cicero.


    1. I too caught the tail end of Latin at our high school. After my freshman year, 68/69, the Latin teacher left and the school had to import a priest from one of the local seminaries to fulfill our second year. Having that background has been helpful in understanding the meanings of words from languages other than English, by recognizing common roots. Just don't ask me to speak it.

  5. No please don't stop. Wonderful descriptives peppered with the history and transformation of words! Pure poetry Neil. Soothing and satisfying. And the video? Don't remember you posting in that format previously but perfect accompaniment to your musing. A wonderful escape from life's troubles

  6. I'll bet you read Henry Huggins' books when you were a boy. Henry had to catch a leaf on his birthday for good luck.


Please feel free to comment on my Facebook page.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.