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The weather can (and frequently does) change between when I write this column and when it is published. However, I am going to take a chance and express how thankful I am for the most beautiful fall I can remember.

Last year we went directly from a smoky summer to an ice encrusted winter. This fall was marked by an accumulation of light jackets left in the truck and the garden each day as they became unnecessary almost as soon as the sun was up.

As of the end of October, the snapdragons are still blossoming in the front yard, while extraordinary colors are “blossoming” on the aspen leaves. Even those trees, which are nearly bare, are still clinging to a few bright spots of color.

The petunias appeared to have given up, but it turned out they were just thirsty after I had turned off the water to them. Several came back and produced a few new blossoms as a reproach to my lack of confidence in their hardihood.

Last year at this time the yard was overrun with migratory birds, seeking refuge and enough seed to enable them to flee farther south. This year, there are still crab apples, May berries and chokecherries, which will doubtless be gone by spring, but are barely touched so far.

No amount of fine fall weather will ever convince the four ash trees out front that they shouldn’t shed their leaves on the first chilly morning of late summer, so I have been raking. And raking. And raking.

Usually I gather most of them up to tuck around bedding plants for a bit of winter insulation, but those plants aren’t ready to be tucked in yet. All the herbs are still growing and the lavender has even put out a few small but hopeful blossoms.

Three-quarters of the nutrients trees draw out of the soil goes to the leaves, so hauling them to the land fill would be a waste. They are currently bagged up until they’re needed.

Well, that isn’t exactly true. The prevailing winds have generously brought me leaves from two blocks away, so I have a confession to make: The other evening, when a surprising gale blew up and waves of leaves blew my way, I “helped” them along by pushing them out into the street, whereupon they happily slipped under the pole fence and scattered across the adjacent nature park.

I also scattered some grass seed and raked it into a large patch of kochia – a noxious weed that killed one of our cows back at the ranch years ago when she broke out and gorged on the toxic treat. Then I trampled a bunch of leaves down on top of the seed. Hopefully the grass will germinate before the kochia comes back. Even the earth would rather grow grass than kochia if given half a chance.

My mother used to take us on walks to gather leaves in the fall. We’d press them in books and then put them up all over the house. Every once in a while a badly faded but still recognizable leaf falls out of a neglected volume.

I did press a few of the migrant leaves as they blew into the yard – not to display, but to identify. I knew most of them: cottonwood, aspen, weeping birch, May tree and lilac, but there were a couple of unrecognizable ones. They’ll be safely tucked in “Trees of North America” until winter arrives and raking coals in the stove replaces raking leaves. Then when they’re identified and spring comes again, I’ll go in search of the distant trees they blew in from.

And I’ll be hanging on to the recollection of this beautiful fall as tenaciously as the last leaves will be flickering on the trees.

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Lyndel Meikle lives in the Deer Lodge area.


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