Leaves of Brown Sugar

A carpet the color of cherry syrup has appeared uniformly on a neighbor’s terraced yard, each terrace covered as neatly as if it had been laid by a professional using measuring tape and sheers. I stare at it, as I walk the dogs. It is a fall of small candy red leaves from a series of ornamental plum trees, the leaves seem to have come down all at once as if coordinated to someone snapping their fingers to give the signal.

This time of year, when Central California finally, sniffingly, admits it’s no longer autumn, the sun is discouraged, hunches only a short ways above the horizon, and it throws shadows through windows that didn’t appear in most seasons: my own shadow on the wall, as I stand in the bathroom trying to carve my beard in some fashion that disguises the pouchiness a little more; the shadow falls on the wall in layers, me in the middle and around it a nimbus of other shadows roughly in my shape; they quiver like an aura that’s only in black and gray. It pulses around me in black and white. On another window the low sun throws shadows of shrunken leaves, truly intricate and detailed, every vein marked in black on gray; they pulse and quiver too.

But when I walk I think about what must going on under the coat of fallen leaves, a whole new biological response as they break down with the help of bacteria and damp; insects that only rise up and prod about at such times, bringing rodents to hunt them. Crows thrash in the leaves seeking the bugs out. I try to see the reflection of its prey in the black and gold eye of the crow as it tilts its head. There’s something there–could be me.

In a gutter a little further down the slanting light catches small, wet yellow leaves, piled up so that they look crystalline like brown sugar. It’s a fine sight. I think of the pictures I’ve seen of crystals spreading, and how they look like the branchings in cypress, and how cypress looks like branching crystals, and it’s like nature is pushing out this way and that way to see itself better.

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