Maybe it was the quest for a particular tree that made me take notice of all the trees this fall. Or maybe this fall isn’t any different from last year or the year before. Maybe the world is always beautiful in October, and I forgot. The way you forget sometimes what a miracle a newborn is until there you are holding one again.
The image that got me noticing all the different shades of orange and red and yellow, the picture that I wanted to find in real life and take myself, I ran across on Facebook. I don’t know who posted it, maybe it was in an ad. But I loved it, so I dragged it to my desktop and have been looking at it since.
It’s of a single tree, cherry or apple, a friend tells me. Its trunk is gray-brown, its leaves a burnt yellow-orange. Mist and tall grass are behind the tree and a carpet of yellow-orange leaves is in front of it. The tree is dead center in the shot, which goes against the most basic rule of photography. It is also too wide for the frame, so its branches are sheared off at the photo’s edge, and too tall, so just its bottom half, maybe even its bottom third, is all that is in the photo.
But it doesn’t need more. The photo is perfect. It says October. You look at it and you can hear leaves skittering in the breeze. You can smell apples and earth and burning wood. You can feel a wool scarf at your neck, the itchiness of it, and the warmth, too. The light shifts and makes you squint and you can sense something, something out of sight, November waiting in the wings.
One rainstorm, one windstorm and all this beauty will be gone. I wanted to capture this myself before it disappeared.
So I carried a camera everywhere I went, certain that I would find a tree surrounded by leaves and shoot it dead center, and maybe not get mist in the background but something just as dramatic.
I abandoned highways for back roads, 128 for Chickatawbut and the Blue Hills, pulled over to the side of the road for a shot here and a shot there, drove down streets I’d never been down, through neighborhoods I didn’t know, stopped at lakes and cemeteries and nurseries, framed a shot and clicked away. One week. Two weeks. Three weeks. Every trip somewhere became a trip to nowhere.
And I got nothing.
I have one photo that’s colorful, but that’s all it is. It’s of a tree that’s Elmo-red and set against a background of green. It doesn’t say October, though. It just says pretty. And that tree was better than pretty. It was, like most everything else I shot, beautiful.
Now the time for shooting my perfect October picture is past. The leaves are dark, maroon and bronze and falling fast. Some trees are already bare. And I didn’t find what I was looking for. I didn’t get my single, sheared-off cherry tree.
But while I was looking, I found beauty in other things. In rows of pumpkins. In yellow and purple mums. In a trio of trees, red, lime, and dark green. In an aqua pond surrounded by leaves of gold. In kids playing in leaves. In Boston’s skyline shot from the Blue Hills. In fallen leaves half red and half green, as bright and as crunchy as Christmas M&Ms.
I wouldn’t have seen these things if I hadn’t been on a mission. I wouldn’t have taken back roads and done U-turns on my way to the grocery store. And I wouldn’t have stopped to take pictures.
The quest for one tree made me notice all trees. And more.
I say too often, “Where did the day go? The week? The month?”
Where did October go? This time I know.