Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Any day now—along the edge of a bike path or beside a hiking trail—you’re going to come around a corner and find yourself face-to-face with the first red sumac leafs of autumn.

It will be ninety degrees out—a prefect summer day—and yet there it will be—a single sprig of red sumac leafs hanging among its still-green brethren— a sign of things to come—a shot across your spiritual bow.

“Repent,” it will seem to say like a cartoon panel street corner prophet. “The end is at hand.” The end of summer, I guess… If you take the short view…

But you’d have to be some kind of insensitive shmoe not to look at that first sprig of red sumac and contemplate how quickly everything else is going too—including Life itself. In that sense, the first red sumac sprig is a little kick in the butt from August to you.

You’ll stand there for a moment. You’ll look at it. You’ll sense Life trying to get your attention… Tapping the face of its watch… Jerking its head and rolling its eyes ever-so-subtly toward the door…

Another year. Another change of season… C’mon. Let’s go.

When you were in college, the first red sumac foretold a change of venue more than a change of season. In a couple of weeks you’d be out from under that tedious summer job, out from under your parents’ roof, and back at school with your friends where you really belonged.

Now, though, you and your college friends are burdened with routines and responsibilities and slumping through middle age. If the first red sumac of autumn foretells anything, it’s that in a matter of weeks your own college-aged kids will be going back to school to be with their friends where they really belong.

But there you will be—face to face with that first red sumac sprig. Locked in that simple, once a year, pas de deux.
The season won’t change. Not right away. But deep in your heart, something old and familiar will take that first step toward autumn. You’ll feel happy, sad, good—and for that moment at least—just the faintest bit blue.

Then your routines will set in again. And you and Life will simply move on.