An August Omen

Omen n. Something believed to be a sign of good or evil.

–The American Heritage Dictionary

Can you see it? Between the two large trees…behind the birch. I can see it. I first noticed it a few days ago but held-off saying anything about it.

It’s not a cardinal or an oriole.  It’s a leaf. And it’s turning red. So are the few other leaves on the same branch.

I know about omens. For example, I don’t need a crystal ball or magic stick to know that my next flight on American Airlines is going to be painful. Painful because I have two legs and American must assume you won’t need them during your flight. Other than that, I’m Irish and the Irish know omens.

But the leaf omen is telling me something special. It’s a warning from the Weather Gods of the North Country. Leaves, you see, are not supposed to turn color until it’s autumn. That’s the rule I grew up observing when I lived downstate New York.

But its August. August 22 to be exact. Legally, its still Summer. Fall colors are not to be a part of ones life until late September or October. Trick or Treat time, when you walk down the street and kick leaves dressed as a vampire.

So, what does all this mean? It means that WINTER is around the proverbial corner. I mowed the lawn once this summer. I haven’t blown the leaves and pine needles off the roof yet. And, yet, these leaves are telling me something:

“Winter is on the way. Get your snow shovel out and keep it handy.”

(Yes, I listen to the leaves. Is there a problem with that?)

I just put the shovel away in the garage. What am I supposed to do? Things are happening too fast for me. I’m retired. I should be slowing down.

But no. Winter in the North Country is just weeks away. It’s almost September. I predict that before the end of October, I’ll need to bring out the shovel again.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the fall colors…all eleven days of them.





What Am I Doing Down Here?

Hey, you.  Yeah, you with the walking stick.  You’ve gotta help me man!  I don’t have much time, so you have to do something and do it quick.

You look like you’ve hiked a few miles in your day…the way you favor your right hip and lean on your wooden staff when you step up on a rock.  You’ve got gray hair so you must be an old guy, right?  (By the way, what’s with the bandanna tied to the leather strap of your pole?  You look like an Old Testament prophet who just stepped out of Dick’s Sporting Goods.)

Well, you may be ancient but I’m not.  I young.  I’m still green.  But some gust of wind detached me from the tree behind me.  I didn’t fall fast, I floated back and forth as I drifted toward the ground.  You can see I landed on a tiny evergreen. (I hate these coniferous trees…they never drop their leaves).  But soon I’m going to be dislodged and I’ll be on the ground with all the rest of these…dead guys.


I know.  I know.  It’s Autumn and the leaves are supposed to turn color (at least my species does) and fall from the tree.  It’s all “part of nature’s cycle,” I get it.  But it’s too early for me.  The drop in temperatures and the decreased sunlight are supposed to trigger the breakdown of my chlorophyll and  I turn a beautiful color.  Seems like I’m going to end up a dull brown hue…not like those maples over there.  They turn scarlet.  Or the beech behind you…it’ll go to some shade of yellow.

But I’m still green.  I’m loaded with chlorophyll.  It’s too soon for me to go.  Can’t you stick me back on the branch…at least for a few more days?  Just a few days…week tops…so I can see the world around me until I just can’t hang on any longer.  I’ll know when that time comes.  No Super Glue is going to hold me to the tree then.  I’ll have to drop…and then it’s over for me.  I’ll be buried by the ten feet of snow they get here…and by Spring, I’ll be pretty well-rotted into the soil.  My only comfort is that my molecules will be rearranged in the earth and I’ll be back.  Just in a different form.

It’s anybody’s guess.  I may return as a poplar or an even a pine cone…or, heaven forbid, a fungus.  I’ve known a few fungi and believe me, they’re no fun to be around.  They don’t even have a chlorophyll.  And, they grow in the most yucky places you can imagine.  Don’t get me started.

But right now I’m an oak.  An oak, man!  Do you understand the implications of this?  I stand for solid, high, and proud.  I’m a metaphor  for strength and life.  My leaf is a symbol for eternity in many northern cultures and folklore.  I also tend to grow in groves in the Celtic countries…and the Druids thought I held weird secrets…and they held ceremonies in my groves–until Christianity arrived and the priests cut my sacred groves down.

I mean, I’m the mightiest and strongest.  When the storm winds blow, the oak remains.And, I come from a wee acorn.  There’s been poems written about me.  “From little acorns grow…” I forgot the rest.

But look at me now…

Perhaps I can share a few family photos from my album:


My mom and dad.


My uncle Burt.  We all told him he had to lose some weight.  He dropped early.


My family tree.


Wait, your leaving?  Wait!  Help me, help me.  You can’t leave me like this.  It’s too soon for me.  I have a few days left.  Please, please put me back on the branch…just for a little while.

Well, good-bye and thanks for nothing.  I can take care of my self…I don’t need you.  I’ll just talk to myself for a while.

Oops!  I’m on the ground now…it won’t be long.  But I can see the blue sky from down here…now that the rest of the leaves have mostly fallen.  Such a pretty blue.  I was much closer to the sky just a few hours ago, and now I can smell the fungus and bacteria that will soon began eating at me.


I won’t feel a thing, though.  They say it’s kind of like dissolving in water.  It’s a slow process.  First you’re here, you’re a leaf, then you’re atoms and molecules.

There’s no pain.

It’s just one big circle.  See you this coming Spring…or if not…some Spring in the future.


The actor Jack Oakie (1903-1978) seen here with Tina Louise. No relation.