The fall has slid by with uncanny quiet and it was only last week that I realized the trees had already reached and passed their peak of color. In contrast to other autumns in which I visited the park several times a week, this year was interrupted by intermittent physical challenges that left me often at home.
Today, knowing it was the last week to enjoy the beautiful foliage, I go to the park early in the morning and take up a new vantage point for reflection. This time it is on an uncomfortable park bench midway between the duck pond and dog park in an area I remember for the many orange and red leafed autumn trees.
The air has a sun-warmed, dusty smell of dead leaves and heavy dew and the light brims with a golden radiance that is only seen in the fall. The sturdy baritone of the church bells from St. Philomene’s ring out a call to prayer and give balance to the high soprano of the twittering birds, the bass of the airplane overhead and sharp staccato of a barking dog.
A small flock of dark birds rush in and settle excitedly on a nearby small tree, setting loose an avalanche of orange and yellow leaves that first tremble, then shower down, making me wish I was beneath that tree with face upturned and being touched by those tumbling leaves. The birds depart as nervously as they came, wings flapping, shrilly calling to each other across the sky.
A gray pickup truck swiftly drives into the lot, full-sized American and State of California flags fluttering from stands locked in the truck bed. It stops, swings into reverse, then confidently backs into a parking spot. A man emerges dressed in army camouflage and is joined by a woman wearing casual Land’s End attire. They stuff the multiple pockets of their canvas vests with small items, pull a variety of fishing rods from the back of the truck, grab tackle boxes in each hand, and set off towards the small stream which has a local reputation for good fishing, at least by city stream standards.
A large doughy man wearing sagging jogging pants and an oversized sweat shirt climbs out of an old white panel truck that is tucked away in the corner of the parking lot. He stretches, scratches his stomach and with a lumbering gait sets off towards the tennis courts where the public bathrooms are located.
His departure is followed by the arrival a family van. A moment later the area is filled with shouts, laughter and the scrambling of children. A toddle climbs up on the curb and jumps down repeatedly, seemingly delighted by his accomplishment for balance and daring. A sibling thumps a basketball across the pavement while an older brother sticks buds into his ears and dips and dives to an unheard rhythm. Two school-age children start a game of tag and race through the trees towards the playground. While the mother struggles with the baby in the stroller, the father calls out commands in an African-sounding language.
As the family begins their day at the park, a small gray hatchback zooms around the parking area, nose down as if following a scent. A alert German shepherd rides shotgun and then looks back longingly as the dog park is passed and left behind is a fog of exhaust.
A large white 4 x 4 arrives and stops across two parking spaces. By default it is the King of the parking lot this morning, not only by its size and presence but by the sparking chrome hub caps that spin and rotate even when the wheels are still. An equally large and impressive brown man emerges and is led by a small tan Chihuahua down the path to the pond.
Meanwhile, the sleepy man from the panel truck has returned looking fresher and more agile. After opening the passenger door and positioning the side mirror to his satisfaction, he lathers his face with cream and begins to shave. I can almost hear him whistle as he twists his cheek first this way, then that.
When I return to the car I find slender orange and yellow leaves piled over the roof and windshield. Three have blown through the partly open window and are resting, like invitations waiting for a response, on my seat. I pick them up and silently read their quiet announcement.