Wednesday, November 14, 2012

D Street, Autumn 2012

The main route I take to and from church here in Salem includes a fair portion of D Street. Each autumn, one of this city's finest fall foliage shows takes place along the stretch from about 15th to 23rd streets. The maples in these blocks are planted close to the street and to each other. During summer, the street is cooly shaded and quietly retiring. But, come late October, these trees begin a miraculous conversion into a kaleidoscopic green-and-yellow leafy tunnel, ending up in a final flourish of yellow-orange against black trunks and wet asphalt.

The green-and-yellow effect has entranced me for years, and I always wondered why it had such a powerful sense of peaceful, playful fun for me. This year, I figured it out: these are the colors of the old Crayola crayon boxes I so enjoyed as a child. Few things are so unalloyed in their joy as a box of crayons.

When the leaves are at this stage, these blocks actually glow with a golden mellowness on a sunny day. It is truly magical, and cannot adequately be described: you need to experience it.

As fall progresses, all of these leaves accumulate fast on this stretch of road. Add a little rain, and you have a sloppy, slick, and dangerous mess. Some drivers can get pretty testy along this route, and a bicyclist trying to avoid heaps of leaves here runs the added risk of being flattened by the large number of school busses going to and from the nearby bus depot. The city has done an excellent job this year of keeping up with the leaves; it seems like a much more concerted effort this time around. Thanks to all the city crews who have worked on this project!

As the leaves reach their final stage, any wind at all will create a leaf-storm. I experienced one recently, and it nearly brought tears to my eyes in its beauty and evanescence. Here, for a brief moment, was captured the fleetingness of life, and yet at the same time its enduring glory.

As the leaves accumulate, a deep, rich scent gradually permeates the air. True, it is the smell of decay, but also of enrichment. The earth is being nourished with the fruit of another year's growth even as it prepares to go to sleep for a season. Thinking about such things is part of why I find this not only a beautiful, but a meaningful time of the year. It emphasizes that some of the most profound truths we will ever encounter do not require a long journey or heroic efforts to attain: they are found near at hand in the familiar things of life.

I had long admired this urban arboreal adornment from a car, but since I began biking it, I have come to experience it in many new ways, and have found--here as elsewhere--that active transportation is interactive in ways that are life-enriching and spiritually renewing.