The Leaf

            autumn 1998

      Any day I don't split wood for an hour or so calls for a hike to the top of the hill with the dogs, according to a promise I had to myself.  So far I've pretty much managed to keep it.  Saw something uncommon up there a few days ago, a rare and uncommon thing I'll not soon forget.  It was an unexpected visual gift that has had me pausing from time to time ever since to recall its magic.  I've been in the woods in all sorts of weather, all seasons, most of my life, but never before saw anything like  "the leaf."

I was a good ways off from the house, had in fact crossed from my property into federal forest, without really planning to go so far.  On an uncommonly warm December day my feet just kept going forward, rather than turning back, though I was quite aware grades easily marched down are lung-busters, coming the other way.

Had a good laugh at the expense of the three dogs who followed from my house.  They're more familiar with the ground on the other side of the ridge than I am  - - couple times a week they disappear in that direction for hours at a stretch - -  and had run on ahead.  A whitetail buck bedded down near the road either hadn't heard them go by, or more likely knew they were going by in a hurry and saw no reason to get up until my slower, noisier self came loafing along.

When the buck saw me plodding by with my walking stick  (a gift from a nephew, more about which another time),  he must have decided the woods were getting too crowded to suit him, and loped off in the same direction the dogs had gone.

The dogs who at precisely that moment found another  deer.

You need to know Boo, my Alaskan husky, is the only dog who barks during these races.  His first sound is always a high frantic  "Yip!  Yip yip yip!!!!"  which I suppose alerts the other dogs, but also clearly means  "Deer, I tell you, deer!  Got one a them things right in front a me again!!  And I betcha I can catch it this time!!!"  The yipping is quickly replaced by a rhythmic  "woof, woof, woof"  that goes on until the pack decides this deer is gonna be like all the others they've chased over the years, will run a lot farther and much faster than a rational dog ever wants to.

Only this time, right after the yip signal came a panicked and altogether shocked  "Yellip?",  followed by a full-tilt freaked out  "Yellip??!!??",  a doggy way of saying  "Where in the merry hell did that  one come from, and where's it at I all of a sudden gotta put up with these things coming up from behind?"

I dunno...

Maybe you had to be there but I knew what had happened, and laughed myself out of breath at the confusion and shocked surprise in that mutt voice, at a mind picture of one mighty hunter husky having deer come at him from all directions.

The point of this story happened on the way back across the ridge, after retracing the path and puffing up steep slopes that'd seemed so gentle, coming down.  I was walking along, head down, watching for more of the turkey scratching I'd seen along the way when something in my path flashed at my eyes, almost blinding in its intensity.  I stopped, tried to find it again, and couldn't.  Took a step backward and it was there again.  It was gold, solidly bright in molten nuggets, sprinkled over a fallen poplar leaf, as gold a gold as anyone ever beheld in this world...

I moved my head a few inches and it disappeared again.  Brought my eyes to their former position and it was there again, molten gold poured out and solidified into tiny nuggets.

It was only rain drops, scattered across a poplar leaf that in dying took on just the right shade to refract through water as gold metal, if the sun struck it at just the right angle.  Witnessing this unlikely illusion required that I come along at precisely the right time, look down at exactly the right moment, hold my head at just the right angle...

The first person I told about  "the leaf"  told me I ought to read Psalm 139.  I'm backslid Pentecostal enough to have a Bible at hand, but enough of a reprobate I didn't understand the suggestion at first and had to ask what the point was.

Go read it.

Psalm 139.

Won't hurt you and you'll probably  "get"  it quicker than I did.

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