More rain and wind overnight and damp grey skies for this morning’s walk with Terrier-Boy. Twigs and branches scattered like chopsticks across the asphalt, with torn leaves and flower petals tossed into the mix. A shaky new squirrel bridge hangs tentatively over the trail—the large limb of an old snag snapped and then caught in the crook of a tree across the path on the way down. I notice both walkers and runners pick up the pace nervously as they pass beneath. So do I. Just in case.
Rounding a gentle bend, already thinking about the next thing I’ll be doing instead of what I’m currently doing, per usual, I stopped suddenly and catch Dash by surprise. He’s usually the one whose goal is to add as many stops along our route as possible, attempting to follows scent trails inaccessible to my human nose.
But it was pigment that grabbed my attention, not perfume. Chartreuse glowing against matte black pavement. “Geez… that’s a lot of leaves down,” I thought. Then as I get closer I can see, no, not leaves. Seeds. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of them, from the prolific sugar maples standing guard on either side of the old railroad easement.
A second later—or as long as it takes for a signal to travel through the myelinated neurons in my brain—I’ve flown 700 miles and 50 years, to a backyard in the suburbs of St. Louis in the late 1960s.
The video showing on the screen in my mind is high-resolution, 3D, and immersive, as if this home movie of my childhood was shot by an IMAX team. Our yard is populated with six silver maples, planted by my parents when they bought the house about 15 years earlier as saplings my mother’s father started from seeds gathered in his own backyard in the city. Now these trees have filled the moist overcast spring sky with confetti, a cloud of maple whirlybird propellers.
I’m in the center of a green cyclone.
Unlike the real tornados that skitter around the Midwest, crashing into buildings, cars, and trees like a pinball, this twister isn’t scary. The light outside isn’t flat; it’s luminous (and yes, I was the kind of kid who used words like “luminous”). Mom isn’t calling from the backdoor with anxiety in her voice, telling me to hurry down into the basement (although it is spring so that could still happen any minute). My face is turned upward, and I’m laughing at the sight and the whirring, clicking sound of spinning seeds, the way they tickle as they brush against my nose and cheeks, they way they tangled in my hair and tumble down inside the collar of my shirt.
And then… a tug on my arm from an impatient canine reels me back like a retractable leash to Southwest Virginia in 2017.
Funny, how something as ordinary as a maple seed can be a time machine, winging you swiftly from your morning walk to a memory you’d thought was long ago misplaced.
But not lost, as it turns out.
I don’t often think about those silver maples on the corner of Marbury Drive and Laconia Court. I moved away in 1980, and my mom sold the house after my dad died in 1993. But I have a beautifully simple colored pencil drawing of two wingèd seeds hanging in my kitchen. Without giving it much conscious consideration, I now realize it’s usually one of the first framed pictures I hang each time I move. When I see it on the wall I know I’m home.
[Postscript: I decide to drive past that house about a year ago while I was in St. Louis. Four of the six silvers were still standing tall, having outlived both generations of humans who planted them. Which is how it should be, of course—you plant a tree for the next generation and, with some luck and a stable climate, one or two or even three after that.]