Editor’s Notebook: The leaf catcher
Trees, sky, and clouds –they’re all there. But it’s that leaf in flight – the speck in the center – that stirs the soul. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)
In memory, wind rises through the trampled dirt of a school playground. A knee-high rustle builds to a boundless roar, and leaves of vital red, gold, and dead brown twist on their branches. Time asks maple, oak, and beech leaves in autumn what it asks all and always: cling or let go?
Sometimes, in the raw of early November, so many leaves would release at once that the sky would fill with them. A plague of paper birds. For a young catcher of leaves, it wasn’t a matter of which one to chase but how many could be captured while standing still.
But in mere weeks, the game would shift. A whole recess could be spent waiting in vain for another leaf to fly because nobody tells you when you’ve caught your last. A lot of hard lessons are learned on the playground, few as penetrating as the one about transience.
I don’t chase leaves anymore. When you’re 51, it’s a good way to pull a hamstring or get your neighbors talking: “Pssst, looks like old Leaf Garrett is at again. So sad for his wife and daughters.” Even amid the harsh echo of imagined whispers, I’d be lying if I said I haven’t missed it.
When my girls were little, I tried to relaunch the pursuit by teaching them the game – no, the art – but it didn’t take. It wasn’t that they were averse to a little outdoor fun, but they’ve always looked at physical exertion from a purely utilitarian perspective. Hiking is just aimless walking, organized sports are philosophically meaningless, and as for leaf-catching? Why waste all that energy running, reaching, and grasping when you could just let the ground catch them for you?
That’s another playground lesson: There’s nothing so formidable as a kid’s cold logic.
Here, I confess my love for chasing leaves not for the obvious reason that it’s early November and they cover everything – or out of sentimentality – but because the poet Louise Glück just died.
I didn’t know Glück personally, and I was completely unfamiliar with her work before obituaries and remembrances started finding their way to me in the middle of October. Now I can’t help but miss her, the poet who I never met and never read. The poet who wrote, in “Nostos”: “We look at the world once, in childhood. / The rest is memory.”
The poet who elicited this, from her friend and fellow poet Elisa Gonzalez: “When I learned she had died, I was sitting on my bed, a red notebook in my lap. In that dazed rebellion that’s grief’s first incarnation, I wrote, You wrote my life, and then I corrected, You wrote all over my life, and then I corrected that correction: You wrote all through my life, and now I correct with a line I know I’ll correct again till I’m dead, too: You wrote me into my life. ‘Sentimental,’ I can hear her saying, with a grimace.”
A month ago, I didn’t know Louise Glück’s devastating-in-its-truth couplet from “Nostos” existed. I didn’t know how simple it could sound, really, to say everything in 12 words.
And I didn’t know Elisa Gonzalez, the poet left to grieve so much more than the end of words. The poet who will feel the faint stab of that one grimace, evermore, in each line she mines.
And I didn’t know, really, why it is that every autumn I dream of a solitary playground game that’s long since ended.
I know now.
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