The leaves are starting to turn.

They’re still green, most of ’em. But around the edges, the other colors are starting to sneak in, a quick pass with the airbrush when nobody’s looking, a little deep burgandy around the apples, hints of yellow and pink among the maples. Every now and then, somebody’s planted a foreign specimen tree, specifically for the color, which stands out pumpkin orange, like a bad dye job. The other trees have mostly drawn back, embarassed, from these outsiders. You get the feeling that they’re glad there’s a little mulch moat, a circle of lawn or sidewalk seperating them. The trees feel in their cambium that that ain’t right.

In my yard, the tulip poplars have celebrated the season by having their leaves turn brown and fall off. Their idea of festivity is somewhat lacking. I could probably enjoy raking more if they were the blazing scarlet, the searing salmon or heartbreaking yellow of maples and elms back in St. Paul. The brown…well, not so much.

I hope that the leaves will continue to turn, that we’ll get at least a few good weeks of brilliant fall. When I first moved from Oregon to Minnesota, the legendary fall colors were like the blizzards–you knew they happened SOMEWHERE, but in your secret heart, you didn’t really believe in them. I’m not sure which one came as more of a shock. Probably fall. Blizzards were met mostly with indignation–how dare the weather be so cold that you get lost in a white out walking a block to the 7-11? How dare my eyelashes ice up? How dare my iced-up eyelashes meet the glacier’s-edge of my hat, pulled down past my eyebrows, slicked with the condensation coming up the sides of my nose rather than out through the scarf, so that every time I blink, my hat moves down?

Still, it wasn’t shocking. Once you realized that yes, the climate was really, actually, honestly trying to kill you, once you realized that you’d gone from gentle, misty, temperate Oregon to a scene from To Build A Fire, resignation sets in quickly.

A truly colorful fall, on the other hand, is like a thunderstorm, or thaw, an almost meteorological event, the sort where you don’t know if you’re happy or despairing, if you’re on the verge of nirvana or a midlife crisis, a state where you actually comprehend “melancholy” as something other than the domain of comsumptive poets. It’s not something you get used to quickly. A good fall will leave you wrung out and drained, the way you get when you’re sick as a dog, wrapped in a welter of blankets on the couch, trying to find something on TV at 3 AM, and you find Bob Ross or TV evangelists and it’s so damn funny and you’re so weak that you start laughing and can’t stop, and every time somebody said “Praise Jesus!” or “…happy little tree…” it sets you off again.

I suspect that we won’t. The South does not seem to have the climate for the kind of colors I hope for. They do spring flowers astoundingly well, some really amazing flowering trees, but last year I don’t recall being all that impressed by fall. I hope I’m wrong, of course. I hope the poplars are merely spoilsports, and the rare splashes of salmon and gold will spread. And if not, eh, I’m going up to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving, and that should be more than enough.

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