It's Coming in the Air

when everything is about the change

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

The forest smells different today. It smells like it’s dying. Because it’s beginning to die.

The grass is dried out and it’s giving up, turning yellow, fading away. Right now it’s warm under the sun, but tonight the stars and clouds will creep across the sky, pushing a chill across the cornfields and into the trees. You’ll see your breath tonight. You’ll sleep heavy and well.

A tree can’t simply go to sleep for the winter. Part of it has to die first, that’s the deal. That’s the price of waking back up in the springtime. “OK,” it says, “but if part of me has to die ... watch this.”

In September, things begin to die. Suddenly you’re walking on dead weeds and dry little leaves, curled up and crackling beneath your shoes. The flower stems are empty and their leaves are brown. The bees show up to flounder and bump against the golden rod.

And the trees are ready to explode.

A tree can’t simply go to sleep for the winter. Part of it has to die first, that’s the deal. That’s the price of waking back up in the springtime. “OK,” it says, “but if part of me has to die ... watch this.”

And boom. The whole forest agrees to change color.

Maybe not all at once, but in time, a series of explosions will sprawl across the canopies. Ash, birch, and aspen go yellow. Oaks and hickories go deep, dark red. Sumac and maple go bright, blinding crimson. And some trees even go purple.

This is about to happen. You can smell it coming.

The color will stay, but not for long. Look around, because before you know it, the leaves will die and the trees will just be big baskets of naked branches. They’ll transfigure themselves into something different. It’s a change most people call “ugly.” It’s a change that means so much to us. It’s how we measure our time.

This is the time of year my dad would drag me into the woods. I wish I hadn’t made it so difficult for him to get me out there. I actually liked being in the woods. But I didn’t like being told what to do.

I didn’t want to look at deer prints in the dirt or at a tree trunk rubbed raw by itchy antlers. I didn’t want to keep watch for big brown shapes ghosting through the forest. I didn’t know what I wanted at all. But I liked the leaves and the smell of the dying grass.

I liked the feeling that something was about to happen. Even when there was sunshine and a cool breeze and the forest was at peace, there was a feeling that something was coming. A colossal shift was already underway. If you let yourself be quiet enough, you can feel a little bit of electricity deep in the trees and deep in your gut.

That’s how I feel, here in September. That change is coming.

I think we should remember that the important part isn’t always the moment of change, when brilliant colors flash from nowhere. A magician might tell you the most important part of a magic show is not the moment when the trick is pulled. The important part is right before the trick, when we – the people sitting there shoulder to shoulder in the dark theater – begin to imagine something amazing. We conjure up our own idea of what might happen. It’s a blank we race to fill, we can’t help ourselves. It’s the very second we see something new, not in front of our eyes, but inside our minds. This is the most important part, because this is the moment when hope appears.

When I see the leaves begin to change, just a little bit, out around their edges, when I smell the dry, dead grass, I feel hope. I feel hope for something fantastic.

Press and hold the up/down arrows to scroll.