Time for a change of scenery. October 2006, autumn. Specifically, a crisp autumnal Halloween afternoon. My father-in-law wasn't doing well and had been staying with me, us, for quite some time. When I had a moment I would look outside and watch the leaves turn, wishing I were outside among the parade of leaves instead of inside with heartache and sadness.
Flash back - A years-ago conversation with my mother-in-law was running around and around in my head. She and my father-in-law were visiting and I'd decided to take her shopping. Waiting for traffic to allow access onto the 4-lane highway into town I was focused on driving and the task at hand. My mother-in-law was so quiet and still during the wait even as I gripped the wheel in anxiety. As I fussed inwardly about the heavy traffic she spoke up and said "what a remarkable tree that is across the road. Every color in the palette is there - blue, red, purple, yellow, orange and green - it's amazingly beautiful." I look across the street and there blazed the lowly Sweetgum tree in the fall light. Sweetgums are those trees with the spiny balls that drop in autumn and make walking barefoot hazardous to any Southern gal. Finally able to merge into the traffic we make our way into town, shop and return. I say nothing about the tree.
Back to October, 2006. Miracle of miracles, my kind and sweet mother comes a'knocking on the door with a gift. Her gift - "go out and play with your camera and I'll stay with Bill for a while."
Tears glazing my eyes and a quick hug for my mom I do just that, hungry for the riot of autumn, music loud in my car, feeling freedom and light for just a little while. And what do I do? I go out in search of the lowly Sweetgum in hopes I can find the palette that captivated my mother-in-law years ago.
I find it across the street, in a nearby park, and on a local river tributary. I load my flash card with images and drink in the light, the smells, the sounds of leaves falling and crunching beneath my feet, the sound of the river, and the Fall Light and cobalt skies. I'm only out an hour or so, but it was enough to refresh me and give my soul a boost of energy.
My mother, my touchstone, gave me such a gift that day. The gift of time and travel, of breathing and feeling, of smelling and touching and tasting life. One cannot put a price on that. My father-in-law died 6 months after my day in the autumn light. My mother-in-law is still with us but no longer paints and doesn't recognize the sweetgums. Every autumn I think of them both, of that day and light and the sounds of autumn. Those experiences changed me on a molecular level. Many of you know that feeling of permanent change.
I want you to see the photos I took that one day, that one hour, where I changed so much. This is the first, these merlot-purple leaves of the lowly sweetgum tree.