Autumn Leaves, Falling

by Elizabeth deGraw Renna


There’s always the danger of falling into clichés when writing about the leaves of autumn trees. We are having a particularly brightly colored fall season, with some eye-catching yellows, oranges and reds on trees throughout town. I have to be careful when I’m driving because some of the trees are so amazing to look at that I find myself easily distracted. I’ve had some great moments of encountering a tree at a certain time of the day, with the light of the sun just right in some way, which turns a tree I hadn’t necessarily noticed before into a glowing “look at me today” experience. That happened to me on October 17, a Wednesday, in the early evening. The sun was down enough that I had my headlights on, but it wasn’t dark yet. And there, in the park by the edge of the road, was a smaller tree that I really hadn’t noticed before. It was shining yellow, still with most of its leaves blanketing the branches in a thick, lush way. In the just-right light of the setting sun, the trunk and branches appeared very dark, almost black, and that contrast of black and bright, lush yellow is what caught my eye. This small tree also had a symmetrical spreading quality that I appreciated in that moment as it captured my attention. I breathed out a “wow” or an “Oh!” and promised myself to check out that tree again the next day when I drove by. I wondered briefly if I could capture the impact of that tree, in that moment, with a camera. And then I kept driving, heading home.


My favorite cottonwood tree, at least the favorite one that I can see from my deck, is glowing yellow right now, too, with some of its leaves still green in clustered areas. The other day the sun was just right in the afternoon and the golden leaves were glittery and fluttering in that unique way of cottonwoods that remind me of Colorado’s aspen trees.


In our neighbor’s yard to the north there is a maple tree that has lost most of its leaves already. In the breeze the other day something interesting was happening, something I’ve never noticed before. Some of the larger leaves were falling, heavy stem end first, and the leaves were spinning and turning at different speeds, occasionally with a slight pause as the breeze caught the leaf and held it aloft ever so briefly. The word “pirouette” came into my mind. The leaf was like a skirt on a ballerina, twirling and swirling up and out. One leaf I saw that fell in this way came down at an angle, spinning gracefully but moving very quickly to the ground. Most of the leaves I saw falling in this graceful pirouette motion came down fairly straight, but each one had its own unique dance movements. Smaller leaves from the same tree fell quite differently in the breeze that day, with less control or less defined movement. They fell faster so maybe that was why it was hard to discern their dance, their rhythm, their falling.


One more moment with leaves, falling. It was a very windy day, sunny with a cloudless sky after some rain in the early morning. In my car, I drove through a swirl of leaves that had been caught up by the wind, lifted into the air and pushed into a dance that moved them first up and then across the road and then up and over the hood of my car. It reminded me of the flocks of birds that fly together in unison, rising and falling, dipping down then lofting up. It was a deep-breath, breathe it in moment.