West Side Artist Robert Beck gets memories, pleasure, and a painting, out of a single red leaf.
By Robert Beck
I spent a lot of my childhood in trees, most often the big apple behind my house, so leaves aren’t just about fall colors to me. I have a distinct memory of my mother standing below me, hands kneading her apron, calling up into the canopy that it was time for dinner. She couldn’t see me, but it was a good bet I was there, draped over a branch, king of my jungle, captain of my fleet. There is a lot you don’t need when you have a tree.
Regardless of how appealing the thought of spending time in a tree is to me now, it’s clearly a bad idea. My climbing days are done, and the park folks would likely take a dim view of it. Not to mention the fire department, when it comes time to get me down.
I still get to enjoy the part when the leaves drop. It seems there is a moment every year when I look out and see it raining leaves, a yellow or orange squall drifting through the park, and I wonder if it will last long enough for me to grab my sneakers and jacket and get to walk around in it. I think of how those leaves often end up a great distance from where they began in the tree. The odds of that leaf landing that far away in that very spot are beyond calculation. But it does. And if it didn’t, another would. It’s not magic. It’s awesome.
Unlike many people, I feel no compulsion to manage nature, including raking or blowing leaves. I do, however, like shuffling through the piles formed by eddies of autumn winds. I’m from an era when leaf burning was a reputable weekend chore, and I admit to fond memories when I smell the aroma. That’s something lost to the rise of the carbon footprint, and I’m not going to argue. We’ve got a lot of work to do.
This particular leaf came to me in a box with a bunch of others, cradling a cupcake. A simple and sensible birthday gift for someone born in October from one who understands. Taping it to the wall next to my easel and doing a painting of it made it mine. A symbol of a beautiful season. The cupcake: well, that works for me anytime.