Every morning and afternoon Mike or myself drives the little country road out to the edge of town to take the kids to school, and we pass a lovely graveyard. I've always liked graveyards, whatever that says about me. I like to think it's because they make you put small annoying things into perspective for a few minutes. I also love history, and if you know your dates, the few numbers etched on a crumbling limestone pillar can tell you volumes about the experience those interred there might have lived out. And a walk in a graveyard makes you go home and linger a little longer over the bedtime rituals you normally perform with irritation, because there were one too many tiny headstones with lichen-covered lambs and dates that weren't far enough apart.
This is the year I finally stopped to photograph the trees.
Every year, in the autumn, the graveyard bursts to noisy life. It has nothing to do with zombies or Halloween. It's the trees. The trees, suddenly screaming for attention and slashing their branchy fingers at each other as they strive to outdo last year's agonizing glory. Flaming orange, police-line yellow, bloody red, shocking peach-pink--it's as if sedate Mayberry suddenly hosted Cinco de Mayo. The evergreens are embarrassed. The spruces stand abashed. Have the others lost their minds? "This is a cemetery!" "Hush!" "You'll wake the dead."
In two days, the battle all over. The sun reigns over all, shining away the shade through branches bare as a newborn, touching twigs clicking in a scritchy death rattle. All settles into sleep. The gravestones are blanketed with a tesselated cape of yellow so bright you must look away, though it brings an immediate sense of loss when you do so. The battlefield is strewn with the dead and you cannot turn away from it, more compelling than a Matthew Brady print. In another day, the graveyard's struggle is over. The stones stand implacable against the paling sky of windy early winter. The spruces are smug and the evergreens resume their haughty guardianship. "Well." They say. "That's that."
Tomorrow, the graveyard won't merit a glance, full of brown flotsam washing up on shores of granite, destined to a noisy fate as the groundskeeper gasses up the leafblower. All that glory, gone with the wind. All that flaunting and fighting and flashing and last-gasping. An abrupt "The End."
The once-proud trees resign themselves to inglorious sleep. Unlike their below-ground companions, they live to fight again another day. The interloper gets back in the car. Casts one last longing look at the silent yellow, and drives away to hug her kids.