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Based (loosely) on actual events…

There’s a moment late in fall, when most of the leaves have dropped from their branches and are hanging out on a sidewalk or in a gutter, somewhere—looking dried, crunchy, and bored—when you realize that fall has truly closed the door on yet another summer. And in terms of yearly seasons, that’s a moment of transition…not because of what the calendar says or because the earth tilts or rotates in a certain way, but because your heart knows that all the plans of spring are now memories or otherwise missed. And the gutter is not nearly as grand a perch, for a leaf, as the cresting branch of a cottonwood tree.

There’s also a moment when you’re sitting in the chair at Fantastic Sam’s, and you look at the cut hair falling in your lap and feel like it must belong to somebody else—because there’s no way your head holds that many gray strands. And in terms of life seasons, that’s a moment of transition…not because of the number of candles on a cake or how many laps the earth has run around the sun, but because youth is now more reflection than reality, and so many memories not made are, probably, otherwise missed.

So, I sat on a bench not far from the fallen leaves, a somber sky hanging low in the November chill, contemplating the gray hair in my lap from earlier that morning and a route not taken in my life, once, many years ago. Those are always the perfect ones, the routes not taken, because they never had the chance to be less—and reflection is usually more romantic than reality. It’s not that I felt old in the moment; but I no longer felt young. Somewhere, the equinox of my life had ushered in a new season; and the autumn breeze pushed in cold against my cheek.

Summer to fall is such a telling transition in our seasons, because it’s one tainted more by perspective than any others. No list is ever completed in the summer; winter always comes on too fast; and tucked in between are the glorious palettes and deep blue backdrops of trees against a few weeks of afternoon skies. Then the leaves fall, the sky drops, and a breeze—once warm on the skin—becomes more biting than inviting. It’s only human to feel a tinge of sadness at the fallen leaves and to wonder whose hair has dropped gray around your feet. It’s only human to wish for more time against the seasons.  In that moment, I felt that there were more things I would never do, than things I would ever do.

Then a remarkable thing happened. A car sped past, close to the curb, and as it did, the leaves in the gutter grabbed hold of its running wake. They squealed like kids on a roller coaster and rode the wind off of the curb and into the air, where they caught the larger breeze, which lifted them up even higher, out across the street and over the rooftops, to a place that was new, a journey that was aloft and stirring. And I realized that their season wasn’t over. It was, in so many ways, just beginning; and places they could only see from their branch a few weeks earlier became destinations and moments to which they ran. The breeze no longer felt so cold on my cheek; it flared with possibility, and I was lifted.

And though I’m 98% sure it was all my imagination, I’ll keep this as part of my memory, anyway. As I was standing to walk away, there was another car, another gust, and another group of leaves set free on the wind. They rose and danced and cheered in delight; and as the last one of the bunch reached higher into the churning air, he stopped for a moment—suspended in time and space—turned, and gave me a quick wink and smile…before riding the breeze to a place in the distance that only a season before had been nothing more than a speck on the horizon.

Seasons be damned. We were born to ride the wind.