Three of the thirteen trees on the premises have perished this year: two successive Ridiculously Hot summers drained the life out of them, and they did not return for a spring opening. Two of them, I couldn't tell you how long they'd survived; but the third, I actually watched it come to life in the middle of 2006, so, for that one anyway, a scant seven years. By tree standards, that's well, hell, how do I know how long trees are supposed to live? They're on a different scale from the rest of us, and besides, Liquidambar styraciflua might not be particularly well-suited to an urban environment in the Southwest, though they seem to hang around for decades in Southern forests. And many trees along this block were hit hard during the ice storm of 2007, which might have taken years off their lives.
Still, that's the nature of a tree: it keeps on going, until at some point it doesn't. And so far, that seems to be the nature of me: I keep on going, until at some point I don't. I have no idea when that point might be, and at one level, I don't want to know. And I am distrustful of clues, if only because the three deceased trees looked okay, if a little wan, in the autumn of 2012, giving no indication that they were about to give up the Wooden Ghost. (Actually, they looked a little bit better than they did in the autumn of 2011, that year having been slightly worse in terms of summer suffering.) For all I know, I may not look so hot myself, and I'm not one to make pertinent observations during the 90 seconds or so I allow myself for scraping off the facial hair each morning; I'm usually just barely awake at that hour, and the main objective is not to slash myself up.
And I, not being a tree, have no leaves from which I could read data anyway. My hair isn't falling out any faster than it used to; in fact, what remains in place actually seems to be remaining in place, though most of the original color is pretty much gone. Then again, this could be a trompe l'oeil effect, due to reduced visual contrast between where the hair is and where it isn't. And the prospect of something other than hair falling off me, I'd just as soon not contemplate.
Besides, the autumn that really counts is not the one that begins on the equinox, but the one that represents the corresponding place in my single cycle of life, and I've been in that space for long enough to suspect the arrival of winter might actually be imminent, as opposed to being somewhere vaguely over the horizon. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing: when I started up this little digital soapbox, I was forty-two and not entirely recovered from the idea that I would bring about my own winter, having at one time been persuaded that I'd had enough of life.
But there are a few things that still alarm me. Sister Brenda would have been fifty-eight today. If you'd asked me back in the Sixties which of us would be around the longest, I'd have told you that she would, without any hesitation. And she barely made it into her twenties. More immediately, one of my mother's five sisters passed away last weekend, and the fewer of them remain both the boys are gone the more I can hear a voice saying "All right, you guys go in the next round." I can point to the inconsistencies inherent in such a judgment there were five of us, and only two remain but the logic is not sufficiently persuasive.
Bobby Goldsboro once did a song called "Autumn of My Life," which, if you ask me, was far sappier than "Honey," in which I found some dark, disturbing undertones. Still, the last few lines resonate for me:
Now a rose can't be found
Moral: Be nice to your ex. If you don't, you'll regret it when you get older. Grudges weigh too much to carry around at that age.
I should, I suppose, take a chainsaw to those trees. But I'm not, at least not now; more than once I've assumed something was dead that was merely pining for the fjords. If I'm no judge of life, I can't very well assume I'm any judge of death.
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Copyright © 2013 by Charles G. Hill
"Autumn of My Life" by Bobby Goldsboro © 1968 by Unart Music Corp.