Some Saturday reflections:
It has been a terrific fall season this year with fair weather extending well into October. This afternoon brings more bright sun and temperatures in the 50s, along with that distinctively crisp smell of autumn that quickens one’s awareness of needing to get ready for winter. I am circuiting my front yard on the riding tractor, the mulching deck doing it’s thing on the leaves. It’s a large front yard with four good-sized maples that drop soft, leathery leaves nearly the size of my face. There are also a couple of birches on the property that drop yellow, trowel-shaped leaves that are small and a real pain to rake. If I’m careful to act before the leaf fall gets too deep I can stay ahead of the leaves with the mulcher, even though I’ll need to repeat the route at least once more in the next few days to get what’s still hanging from the branches.
I spent the earlier part of the afternoon taking care of another important preparation for winter, that of buying my youngest a new winter coat. The selection of colors in the store wasn’t as vibrant as what I’m seeing now, but it was unmistakably autumn all the same and there was a certain warm satisfaction in being able to manage this assignment. When I got home the yard was calling and the late afternoon sun was perfect jeans and sweatshirt weather.
Now the sun is lower in the sky and the trees and the neighbors houses cast shadows. As I move back and forth through the patches of light and shade I alternately feel a little too warm and a little too cool. As the afternoon slips away the shadowed section gets larger but it still feels good being outdoors. The extended mild weather has given us extra time to prepare for winter: taking down awnings, putting up storm windows, caulking those suspect seams around the cupola over the music room window and on one of the roof vents, cleaning out the flower beds. No reason we couldn’t have gotten to these little projects sooner, but we just didn’t – there’s always so much else to do when the days are longer. When the first nip enters the air, however, you know time is short and you’ve got to pay attention.
I’ve got the tractor in a low gear with the blade speed set as high as it will go to mulch the leaves as thoroughly as I can. It’s slow going, but I figure it’s still better than raking and bagging. My methodical progress doesn’t take a lot of concentration so I think about how much I love this time of year, and then on to where I might be in that “May to December” continuum that Frank Sinatra sang about in “September Song.” I don’t think I’m that old, but I’ve had my “June” — and “July” and “August” seem kind of blurry to me. My mind naturally goes back a couple of weeks to my long-awaited examination at the heart clinic. The visit stemmed from a mysterious episode back in August when I had felt a strange pressure on one side of my chest, but with no other telltale symptoms. A visit to the ER turned up nothing but a hefty bill and the advice to get further testing done. Kind of like my fall chores, I had put off getting that testing done for one reason or another even though, like my fall chores, I knew I was eventually going to have to do it.
When I had finally gone in I was injected with a thallium tracer and put inside a machine that rotated an x-ray camera around my torso both before and after a treadmill stress test. When that was finished I’d then had an ultrasound where the technician let me watch my own heart and its valves beat and listen as the amplified sound of my blood swishing filled the room. It hadn’t happened that quickly, of course, as I spent nearly three hours at the clinic and moved from room to room. During that time I couldn’t help but notice that almost all my fellow patients were much older than I and moved with much greater deliberation.
Sitting on my lawn tractor it feels as if it’s moving at about the same pace as those older folks and I think about how much I’ve taken my own mobility and energy for granted. That’s not to say there aren’t mornings when I wake up feeling as if I’m 60 (or what I imagine 60 to feel like, since I’ve never been that old), and I use reading glasses (which I’m always forgetting to bring to restaurants where it seems I need them the most), and thanks to the knee surgeries I’ve reached an accommodation with my body on certain activities (I’m riding a mower instead of pushing one, after all), but I still pretty much do the things I want to do. Yet I remember the sensation this past summer when the realization sunk in that I’m probably never going to play in a softball league again. One hour of running aggravates my knee for a week, so I haven’t played for years. Somehow, however, I always had the thought in the back of my head that maybe next year it’ll be better. This summer I sat in the bleachers and watched that ship sail off across the outfield.
The results of my heart tests came back the other day and everything was normal. I’m relieved, of course, and a bit miffed at having taken the trouble and expense, but also happy that at least I know where I stand — or, in today’s activity — where I sit. In a way, the tests were for me like one of those fall chores; a chance to snug things up before winter gets here. Like the summer, I’ve taken my health for granted but the nip in the air, like the chill of the stethoscope, reminds me that there are things I need to do before it really gets cold.
The yard is almost finished and there’s only a few strips worth of leaves to pass over, and only a small corner still in the sun. My bare fingers are feeling a little cold on the wheel. If it were February and they felt this cold I’d probably complain, but for now the weather is good and the promise of hot coffee when I finish makes the sensation even pleasureable. I make the last pass and head for the shed. Winter is coming.