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The scent of dry leaves overlays the aroma of frost-limp grass that has been heated in the sun of a December day. Leaves that just a few weeks ago shone like jewels in a saint’s reliquary now lay scattered across the stiff grass in brown husks that curl like an old woman’s fingers.

The stately pines and evergreens stand as backdrop to the bare limbs of other trees and the hard sunlight carves thick sharp shadows and flings them to the ground with finality. With their massive trunks the oaks hold up heavy black limbs that defy gravity, jutting horizontally then twisting upward.

From the pond, a crow’s insistent cry punctuates the morning air as fountains jet water ten, twenty, thirty feet skyward, the mist drifting east like snow. Three, four, five squirrels dig briskly and chew quickly, eyes darting side to side, tails twitching like long-haired metronomes, sixteen to the bar.

At the deserted playground the swings hang limply like broken arms from the shoulders of the cross bars. The sliding board gleams in the sun, polished by the seats a hundred corduroy pants. The missing mothers are now filling shopping carts at malls, ticking off items in a list made late at night while children slept.

In silent procession, a lone woman swiftly pushes a walker down the path accompanied by two small dogs with waving tails, one wearing a red Santa suit, the other with brown felt antlers over his floppy ears. A small Japanese lady leading a large German Shepherd that easily outweighs her follows close behind. Crossing her path a stout young man leads a Dalmatian, its polka dot coat a note of whimsy in the otherwise green brown landscape.

Meanwhile, cars drive slowly through the parking lot, then speed up and join traffic to other destinations on this cool bright day.