Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Falling into Winter

I was standing on the walkway in front of my house, watering the climbing roses that grow along the big front window, when I began to pay attention to a particular sound. I couldn't quite place what I was hearing. It was like raindrops but the sky was big and blue, without a cloud. It was like a wave of applause, but I was alone on the street. 

Still listening,  I stopped and looked around and realized it was the sound of leaves falling. Not just a few autumn leaves, drifting lazily down to the ground. It was a shower of big, curling, gold leaves from the towering horse chestnut trees on the corner. 

There was no wind to shake them free, but one after another the leaves on the uppermost branches simply let go, dropping straight down with purpose, sometimes knocking down leaves on lower branches as they went.

I stood where I was for a moment, struck by the show. The cascade of broad papery leaves increased as more and more leaves fell to the ground.

It was as if the big trees had simply shrugged them off, like weary mothers tired of clinging leafy children

The spiked husks holding the smooth brown chestnuts had already fallen and for weeks the squirrels had been busy, running across wires overhead, holding the prize in their mouths as they hurried back to the cache with more provisions for winter. I'd watched them bury chestnuts in my flower beds and in the potted plants around the patio. We’d gathered a big bowl to put out as squirrel treats in the deepest part of winter, to make amends for the nuts I’d taken out of the pots on the patio.

All that remained of the trees' industry of spring and summer and early fall--the unfurling of soft green, the messy blooms, the abundance of chestnuts--were the golden leaves. And now, one after another they fell from the branches and collected around my feet. 

I pulled my phone from my pocket and recorded a short video, a private movie of a splendid moment. 

How often had I looked up and commented that the trees seemed to have shed their leaves overnight. One day the canopy of color was there and the next it was gone. 

I felt fortunate, as is so often the case with nature, to have been in the right place at the right time to see something beautiful. In just minutes, the branches were bare with only the most tenacious leaves left behind. All was quiet again. 

I could imagine each tree heaving a great sigh. Her work was done for the year. Now she could rest. Now she could sleep.  

The calendar might disagree but I could not argue with what the trees were telling me. Fall is over and winter is coming. 

I walked back to my own yard, back to the roses, kicking at the leaves on the ground just to see them to scatter, and I thought about the things we see and the things we miss as we go about our day.

Before long the city's sweepers will scour the street and take away the litter of leaves. One morning, any day now, the gold will be gone and we will wake to the season's first snow, to a dusting of winter white on bare black branches. 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Grounded by Love

My granddaughter walked through the door and ran up to me. 

“You’re not on a plane anymore!” she said as she wrapped her arms around me. I hugged her tightly.

“No. I’m here with you.”

She's growing and she's hungry these days. The first thing she wanted was a snack: Carrots. 
“More carrots, Nana!”

While she ate she chattered, swinging her legs, wrapping her feet around the cared legs of her old oak “youth” chair. I stood at the kitchen counter peeling carrots and cutting them into toddler-friendly slices.

After she’d eaten her fill of vegetables and hummus, she asked to take a walk. The day had been cloudy and cool and already the light was beginning to fade. We put on our jackets and she asked to take her balloon along. The shiny orange Jack-O-Lantern was a gift from one of her aunts and she wears it like jewelry.

I tied the end of the ribbon that trails from the mylar balloon around her right wrist, to keep it from floating away as we walked. She also wanted her “flower,” a plastic tie-hanger that surfaced after a closet clean-out. 

The object, white plastic ‘“spokes” that hold and separate a man’s ties, is curved at the end to fit over a closet rod. When held upside down, it looks exactly like a daisy. But you’d never know this, of course, without seeing it through a toddler’s eyes. 

So, ornamented with the pumpkin balloon, holding the plastic “flower,” we stepped out into the chilly late-afternoon air. 
She automatically turned toward the park, heading for the playground we visit most afternoons, but I knew our light jackets wouldn’t be enough as the temperature dropped. So I steered us in the opposite direction, down the street and deeper into the neighborhood.

She slipped her hand into mine and I tucked my sleeve over us like a glove. As we walked she chattered the way small children do. She stopped to look at the maple leaves collaged across the sidewalk, exclaiming at the yellows and reds. A dog barked and she stopped to look around, trying to pinpoint the “Boof.”

At the corner, intimidated by the ribbon of headlights threading up and down the hill, she stopped and pressed closer to me.

“Too many cars!” she said and tightened her grip on my hand.

We waited for a break in the home-from-work traffic and crossed the street. The next block is canopied by tall sycamore trees, a tunnel of gold this time of year, and the lawns and sidewalks are littered with fallen leaves. Some homeowners had cleared their sidewalks but others hadn’t yet caught up and in places the leaves were ankle-deep. I waded in and kicked my way through. This startled her. She stopped, again, and looked down at her feet. Then she did the same thing, pushing the leaves ahead with each step.

“We are kicking leaves!” she shouted. “We kick the leaves!”

We walked another block and then crossed to the other side of the street and turned back toward my house. Again and again we plowed through leaves when we found them and she laughed out loud each time.

We crossed the busy street again, not so threatening now that the rush was over, and, what with one interesting thing after another, it took another quarter of an hour to walk the last block home. 

 I was, I realized, in that shining second, as happy as I have ever been. I’d been given the gift of uncomplicated time with a small child, something I’ve missed since my own have grown up and away. 

 I have always been a little afraid of the secret part of me that is not unlike the balloon tied to my granddaughter's wrist. I could have floated away, drifting from one adventure to another, but my children were my ballast. In becoming a mother I chose to tie myself to them and that grounded me. And now, when I am free again, able to fly if I want to, I find myself making the same choice again.

We walked up the front steps, past the pumpkin on the stoop, and through the front door. Still holding hands we stepped into the warmth of the house. That must have triggered something in her memory because she turned to me again.

“You’re not on a plane anymore,” she said with a smile.

“No. I’m here with you,” I replied, smiling down at her. 

And of all the wonderful places I have ever been, of all the places I would like to go, none is, or could ever be, as fine as where I was at that moment.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at