A Senior Moment
'Those Maple Leaves'
by Rev. Bob Johnston

November 20, 2016

New Perspectives

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No, I am not misspelling the controversially-spelled name of our beloved and improving hockey team, those “Toronto Maple Leafs.”  

I am referring to other autumnal gifts, annual blessings bestowed upon us by a generous and bountiful Mother Nature. A friend and I recently traipsed through a pile of fallen maple leaves layering a roadside path. Each step evoked a shush ---shush growl of complaint from underfoot as if we were unwelcome intruders disturbing their slumber. Instantly, all five of my senses were activated, triggering long-ago memories and deep nostalgia which tugged at my heart.

From within my memory bank, I could picture five giant maple trees which dominated our Peterborough backyard. I once again saw their multicoloured October display of reds, yellows and orange, festooning each heavy branch like Christmas tree lights. I then recalled observing these same leaves, now wrinkled, and uniformly dull brown, cluttering the ground below, passive and lacking animus.

 I could recall hearing the excited chatter and laughter of our children, joined by several friends from the neighbourhood, as they built imaginative, leafy forts and castles. At other times they would make a maple mountain high enough to jump from the monkey bar and land without harm, disappearing into the cushiony bed below.

Years earlier, in my own childhood, we never bagged our leaves nor left them curbside for city pickup. Actually, we did leave them at the curb, but only for purposes of burning. I can still smell the smoky fumes of smoldering fires which probably lasted all night and demonstrated our ignorance of environmental concerns.

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Those roadside piles of burning leaves did produce a pleasant sensory taste response: my friends and I were rewarded for our efforts at leaf raking. We were given raw potatoes from my grateful mother. These were then strategically deposited close beside the flickering flames. After a few moments of impatient waiting we carefully retrieved the remnants, surface-blackened and charred on the outside, but steaming hot and deliciously softened, white under peeled-away skin.

Even my sense of touch was resurrected by that traipse through the fallen leaves last week. Of course, my boyhood fingers had been scorched by peeling those potato skins. There are other tactile adult memories. I can now feel anew, and with a wince of phantom pain, the weight of carrying a child-bearing tarpaulin on my back. Let me clarify.

Each fall season I would unabashedly bribe our children to secure their help with the massive task of backyard leaf-removal. My most efficient strategy was to elicit their assistance in laying an old canvas, white paint sheet/tarpaulin flat on the ground and dumping arms-full of leaves on top of it. Once it was filled to overflowing, I would sling the tarp like Santa’s giant Christmas goodie bag over my shoulder and stagger out to the roadside curb---hence the back pain!

The bribe part? On my return trip to the backyard, each child could have a turn riding inside the Santa’s bag, curled up like a baby being delivered by the stork. Even better, once in the backyard, he or she, still wrapped in the tarp, could then enjoy a special “swingaround,” lasting until I became dizzy or my back began to spasm---hence more back pain!

On that unseasonably warm day as my friend and I continued shushing through the carpet of fallen maple leaves, I fully indulged these five senses, allowing them to take me back to earlier times when my kids were small and my back stronger. It felt good!

These days, I have no maple trees. However, we live communally, with neighbours who freely share with us their own harvest of windblown leaves. Next spring, in our commune, I reciprocate by sharing my harvest of tiny, white dandelion seeds—also windblown but never providing as much good sensory stimulation as those maple leaves of long-ago.
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Saturday, November 19, 2016