Sweet Autumn Day

100_2227Adam knew that this would be a special autumn day. His grandmother had called the night before to tell Adam that a visit by him in the morning might yield a piece of fresh baked apple pie. When Adam awoke, he could see through the bedroom window, framed with white frost around the edges, that it was bright and sunny, and the sky was painted as blue as a jay’s back. Through the same window he could see brilliant red leaves on the branch of a soft maple that brushed against the panes of glass. In the distance the hillside was a show of autumn colors that he knew would not last for long. They were here in all their glory on this day and he intended to absorb each and every visual delicacy so that he could recall this day at some time in the future when he needed these memories during the harsh days of the winter ahead.

After dressing in a checkered, red and black flannel shirt and dungarees, Adam went downstairs and stood by the woodstove while his mother scooped out some oatmeal from the pot that simmered on the stove. A quick breakfast and he was out the door to the backyard where, in between an ash tree ripe with golden leaves and a split rail fence, he found the head of the trail that led to his grandmother’s house.

The woods were slippery with dew, and everything seemed to glisten as the rays of the sun peaked through the limbs of the trees. Not too far into this short journey he came across an old apple tree that stood along side the edge of the trail. He grabbed an apple and took a bite of the nearly frozen fruit. There was a snapping noise as his teeth bit into the icy apple skin. The cold, sweet juice, only slightly tart, ran down his throat as he chewed the meat of the apple. One bite was enough. The real treat was only a short distance away.

The vibrant colors of the hardwood forest along the trail to his grandmother’s house stimulated memories of a recent science class. He remembered learning that when leaves were green each leaf cell contained chlorophyll and carotenoids. As the summer sun waned, less chlorophyll was produced and the carotenoids remained producing the bright yellow and some of the lighter orange leaves found on ash, birch, and hickory. The bright red colors were the result of leftover sugars within the leaf cells that produce anthocyanins (pigments producing red and blue coloring). Adam liked the notion of leftover sugars within the leaf cells. Somehow it reflected sweet memories of the summer, no longer with him, but still present in his mind, nonetheless. Trees such as the red maple, sumac, and sugar maple were ripe with these sugars that make the leaves appear to be bright red and orange.

For Adam, this scientific explanation, curiously, explained the reason for the autumn show of colors, but did nothing to reflect the beauty and elegance of the fall landscape. His grandmother had a better explanation for that.

Adam ran the half mile or so along the trail to his grandmother’s house. The cool air entering his lungs with each deep breath seemed to exhilarate him. In less than five minutes he stood on his grandmother’s stoop. The sweet smell of apple pies cooling on the windowsill caught his attention. He thought, once again, that this just might be the perfect day.

As Adam opened the old paneled door and entered into the kitchen he saw his grandmother standing in her floral dress and white apron by the kitchen counter. This was standard attire for this woman nearly in her seventies. Her reddish bronze skin, reflecting her part Abenaki ancestry, stood in stark contrast to her white apron. She smiled as Adam rushed in to the kitchen making a beeline for the windowsill that held the cooling apple pies. There they were, two beautiful apple pies, so perfect that they seemed, for the moment, to be the center of the universe. The light brown crusts were perforated with and arrangement of holes that were shaped to look like an apple tree. Steam rose through the perforations permeating the room with the smell of cinnamon and apples.

Adam just knew that these apple pies were made from the Baldwin apple tree in grandma’s back yard that only bore fruit every other year. This was just another reason that made the experience so special.

Adam watched intently as his grandmother took one of the warm pies from the windowsill. She carefully cut two pieces and placed each piece on a plain white china plate. Each piece, nearly a perfect triangle, was garnished with a small slab of sharp cheddar cheese. The yellow cheese melted slightly into an irregular form as it lay on top of the hot pie.

“You know where the autumn colors come from, don’t you Adam?” asked his grandmother. “Tell me, grandma,” Adam replied. And his grandmother told him the story that he had heard every year since his fourth birthday. This was the story of Abenaki hunters in heaven who after a full summer of hunting managed to kill a bear so large that it could feed and clothe an entire village for a whole winter. The great bear bled when it died and dripped blood over the forests coloring the leaves red. And when the Abenaki women cooked the meat, the fat melted and dripped from the heavens coloring some of the forests with golden browns and bright yellows. In this way, the people who still lived on earth could be reminded of the great bounty in the heavens, and could celebrate the autumn harvest.

Adam listened to his grandmother tell this story as he ate the hot apple pie. As she told the story his mind wrestled with the ancient myth and he realized that it held a place in his heart that made him complete and at that moment it occurred to Adam that perhaps his grandmother’s sweetness was reflected in the color of her bronze skin, much like the red leaves of autumn.

And, for Adam, this realization made this the perfect day.

Originally written in September of 2004.

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