Autumn Leaves and Other Overrated Phenomena

If you define yourself as a Texan, people think you’re asking for it.  They corner you at cocktail parties and start kvetching about the state’s traffic, its provincialism, its politics.  After a while, I start longing to commune with the potted plant in the corner.  I can only take so much abuse from people who are so dimwitted that they evidently left paradise behind (in the Bay Area!  Boston!  LA!) to plant uneasy roots among those of us who dress funny, vote wrong and talk too slowly.  I can find the number of a moving company in the phone book pretty damned quickly; why can’t they?

This time of year, though, the out-of-staters’ complaints usually turn to the seasons.  They speak rapturously about the great colors dead leaves evidently turn in some parts of the world.  About crisp mornings and welcoming hearths and soft cashmere sweaters.  About — yes! — the promise of a dazzling, white Christmas that renders the world a pristine fairyland.

But here!  Here — in Texas!  How can you even tell which season it is?

Good grief.  Enough of this.  Let me explain, to the uninitiated, how you can tell what season it is in Texas.  (Notice I said “uninitiated,” instead of “ignorant”; I was only thinking “ignorant.”  Around here, we call that good manners.)

First of all, many people might suggest looking at a calendar, which is an organizational item said to be quite helpful in knowing what season it is.  My calendar says it’s November.  That sounds like fall to me.

Second, check out the decorations at people’s houses.  Lots of people go all-out, creating dioramas for Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, etc.  (Just avoid my house, which has holiday lights up the year-around.  This isn’t meant to confuse anybody.  It relates only to my finally giving in to my husband’s slothfulness and speaks to my own diminishing standards of home decoration, which were pretty low to begin with.)

Third, stop expecting traditional, old-fashioned seasons around here.  We have summer and not-summer.  Occasionally, we have a gorgeous day in, say, October, when the sky is a clear, gorgeous blue and the air is crisp and you can wrap yourself into your wool sweater, even if it does smell like mothballs.  That day is fall.  It isn’t our fault if you missed it.

Finally, pick out some plant in your neighborhood with seasonal properties and judge the seasons accordingly.  In our backyard, for example, we have a tree that stays green into November.

“What kind of tree is that?” I asked my husband, since he was the one who planted it.  “I’m going to write about it.”

“I don’t know,” he shrugged.  “Just a tree.”  We’re both from West Texas, which means we are only familiar with mesquite trees and also have great difficulty opening and closing umbrellas.

But anyway, considering the tree only identified as “a non-mesquite tree”:  First, a single leaf turns a brilliant scarlet.  That tells us it is autumn in our backyard.  Then the rest of the tree turns as red as a torch a few minutes before a wind sweeps through and wipes it clean.

When that happens, we know autumn is over.  But, hey.  It was a great 10 minutes while it lasted.

(Copyright 2007 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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