We mark the fall season around here with the changing of pillows, bed coverings and curtains, exchanging warmer clothes for those light summer dresses that still flutter from hangers.
I stand stunned in the face of the calendar’s insistence that today is November 15th, so I look into the backyard, and this seems about right because the horse chestnut tree, which is actually a towering grove when you look to the base and see all the thin reaching trunks, is covered with its distinctive golden leaves. They are the clothing of November.
Well, the grove of trees is not exactly clothed, as a good portion of the leaves — perhaps a third — have already fallen to our yard, and sit in huge piles of various stages of decomposition.
This grove’s got quite a life.
First is the bare season of the calendar year’s beginning when the tree(s) tower high into the Portland sky, reaching from behind our fence to five other yards. And then the spring blossoming, which we endearingly refer to as “poop flower season” when the unmistakable scent lingers heavy in the air and falls in sticky remnants under foot.
Then there’s the leafing that creates the shady bliss of summer — our “happy season” of comfortable backyard fun and meals outside. How we love this tree then.
And then in early fall comes the raining down of horse chestnuts in their medieval spike pods. Yes, there’s a reason we call it “hard hat season” because it’s the time when kids are best off wearing head protection before they play on the swing set beneath the giants.
Lest you think we turn these massive piles of nuts into something worth keeping, well, we tried that. Before we knew it was a horse chestnut tree, Michael baked a tray of them in the oven, hoping they could be transformed into a delightful holiday gift, perhaps roasted chestnuts or a savory soup mix. The girls’ dreams had already turned to a sidewalk stand with overflowing merchandise: “Chestnuts – $1 a bag.” This was going to be epic.
The nuts that didn’t open as they should and tasted like Windex were an indication that this was no mere chestnut tree. We were on our way to an epic experience for all the wrong reasons, but thankfully avoided the blindness they can cause to humans due to a flavor and throat tightening that screamed “Wrong! Wrong! This is all wrong!”
(Apparently, horse chestnuts can be used to treat varicose veins if one knew how to transform glossy brown nuts into a tincture. Anyone?)
This tree is a slice of life here in this old house, probably deserving more than five minutes on a Friday morning because the metaphors feel endless. This huge, imperfect, snarly-branched mess we’ve inherited is reminder of constant covering, of change and the coming around agains. It grounds us.
It is part of the stories we tell connected to the lives lived under its branches, these memories like roots going down deep, golden leaves fluttering to our feet.