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Falling Leaves and Chickadees

December 14, 1996
Last night the leaves fell, and this morning I saw a chickadee. I can say that the leaves fell last night with such certainty because that is how it happens here. To be sure, leaves have been falling from trees for several weeks now, but not with any decisiveness. Only the weaker leaves, the ones with lesser wills to live, gave up early and drifted off into whatever oblivion dead leaves go to. They scattered about the ground and skittered across the roof just to warn that the day was coming, sooner or later. It takes a certain passage of time to build up to a critical mass of dry leaves hanging in somber brownness from the trees, combined with the catalyst of a strong north wind to tear them all from the trees at once and send them floating and whipping down onto the sand below. This morning I woke up and saw the ground covered by a solid carpet of dead brown leaves, the driveway all but invisible beneath its brittle blanket. That is why I can say, last night the leaves fell.

As for the chickadee, it is probably miles away by now. It is one of the birds that we see only briefly as it passes through on its migratory journey south. Soon it will be followed by the eastern bluebird, the tufted titmouse, and the painted bunting. The first cardinals arrived several weeks ago, and here they will stay until spring, gifting us with bright splashes of red to contrast with the overall drabness of the winter scenery.

As I have said before, we don't get much snow here in south Texas. So, our Christmas, I suppose, looks different from many other parts of the country. It seems that every Christmas movie on television has snow--there are always white Christmases on television. But here, the best we hope for is weather cold enough to start a fire in the fireplace, or brew up some favorite hot drinks.

And the lights. At this time of year multihued lights pattern the countryside. Anything from a single strand of lights to trim the eaves of a roof, all the way to daylight-bright displays of electrical grandeur. Sometimes the displays become overdone and, I think, a little silly. I have always found something vaguely disquieting in a miniature nativity scene with a life-size Santa Claus, Charlie Brown and Lucy gazing beatifically down from above. Most, however, are quite beautiful, as if the neglected artistic urges of these people are suddenly released in a single explosion of brilliance one time every year.

And so, at this time of year, we wait. Midway between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there isn't much to do but continue the regular routine and catch up with the Christmas shopping. That done, we may take a drive to look at the lights. We clean and fill the bird feeder for another winter, wrap the pipes, and listen for the weather forecasts. If the night sky is clear we may sit on the front porch, turn off all the lights, lean back and look up into the sky. Out in the night a small breeze makes the fallen leaves rustle with a sound like trees laughing. Soft music floats out from inside the house, bringing with it the scent of the sandalwood incense burning on the kitchen table. Around us turns the world, and above us whirls the universe.