The Leaves Fly

My Grandpa Stewart took me on adventures, before I was old enough for school and while my father was busy clearing land and though it seems in my memory as if there were only a few such adventures, the importance is found in the details.
Frank Ezra Stewart, his middle name exotic to me, was my grandfather. I do not know a single other person with Ezra in the middle of a name or otherwise. My grandpa was amazed by the magic of cameras and as a result, photography became his hobby, a passion he passed along to my father. He crafted fine furniture, especially the size that would fit inside the doll house he built for his granddaughters, my sister and me. His adventures included walking in the woods with me in tow, back as far as the beaver dam on our farm, which was quite a hike for a five-year-old. He always brought along a small tin pail for me to carry and with it his wise words. “If you are carrying a pail to gather up treasures you come across, you will always see something you would otherwise have missed,” he said. And he was right. The only salamander I ever saw in my life was while on adventure with my grandpa while carrying my pail. I didn’t carry the salamander home with me, but I did spend a lot of time examining his interesting body, the flecks on the side of him and his shiny blue back and how he slithered more than walked, but always in a hurry. We found him under a log and no matter how many logs I turned over after that grandpa adventure, I never saw another.
Grandpa Stewart took me to the Alberton Municipal Office, a small white building that seemed more like a playhouse than anything else. I remember it being only one room, but I suspect that isn’t accurate. He opened the giant ledgers on his desk, and those ledgers seem to fill the entire space, the covers thick and heavy, the pages wide and the numbers he entered there on those pages were precisely formed, as if each number was a work of art. It seemed to me he was the keeper of all the important kind of information that a municipality needs to keep. Those ledgers seemed to house the secrets, the instructions, the magic clues of life, in number form, written by hand.
I had a lot of questions for my grandpa while we walked, most of them beginning with the word why, and the one that sticks in my mind is why do the leaves turn colours? He gave me a scientific answer, while I gathered leaves for my pail – the chlorophyll that allows a plant to make food from the sunlight is reabsorbed to be used in the next growing season and this allows the other colour pigments in the leaves to show through. He would have made the explanation plausible to someone my age, but I remember him pausing mid-sentence, as if examining his own explanation. “It’s magic,” he finally said. As I grew up, the sense of autumn magic prevailed.
I walk along the roads in my neighbourhood now and though the trees are mostly of the conifer variety – hemlock and pines and balsam – there are enough maples and birch for the forest to sing like an autumn philharmonic choir. As a result, autumn is my favourite season of the year. I remember being told as a child, and I don’t remember by whom, but the words have stuck with me all these years – Leaves don’t fall in the autumn, they fly. A happier image there is not.
wendistewart@live.ca