Following the hot, dry months of August and September, I looked forward to cool autumn nights. Because of the drought, I did not expect to see much autumn leaf color. In fact, it would not have surprised me to wake up one September morning to find all the tree leaves, brown and crisp, lying on the ground.
Instead, nature pleasantly surprised me. As the season moved from summer to fall, the cottonwoods and ash tree leaves turned bright gold. The locust leaves assumed a rusty shade while elms and hackberry trees along the creek turned shades of brown I expected of all the leaves. For a few days in the first two weeks of October, the trees along Big Creek presented a brilliant and unexpected show of color.
By mid-October, the colors peaked, and I savored every remaining moment the leaves remained on the trees. It would be only a matter of time before the leaf drop began. One mid-October school morning, I left the house to go to work and noticed golden and russet leaves carpeting the patio and driveway.
As I drove into town, I noted the growing piles of leaves at the base of each tree. I also watched gold leaves falling and catching invisible air currents on their way down. The denuding had begun, and soon stark limbs would point skyward as the dead leaves began their job of renewing the earth.
Fortunately, a few warm Indian summer days extended the time gold still hung precariously from ever more visible branches. Eventually a cold front blew in, and its winds blew the remaining leaves down, creating golden blizzards. As the front blew the last leaves from their limbs, it brought welcome rain. Although I regretted the winds blowing the leaves down, I enjoyed the rain drumming on the roof and plinking against the windows.
What I did not expect was a rebirth in my yard. The trees know that autumn is here and winter lingers just around the corner, but the grass that went dormant during the dry days of August must be confused right now. The lawn is greening up, and my flowerbeds, which I cleaned up a few weeks ago, are sprouting seedlings.
How strange to look out the front window to see bare trees ready for the long winter ahead, and then look at the lawn and observe the faint hue of spring green emerging. My flowerpot has a revived petunia braving the cool nights and a thirst quenched mum blooming again.
This unseasonal greening of the grass heightens my awareness of the miracle of the prairie. Though the weather, grazing, or fire may dictate what grows above ground, the true miracle lies beneath the surface of the soil. The root system lying beneath the ground can survive drought, fire, overgrazing, and any number of other assaults and still return when conditions are right.
I am reminded there is more to this prairie than what I see. It is a complex system capable of surviving situations that destroy hybrid seeds and plants. With our help, and very little of that, the prairie will renew itself time after time, just as the leaves on the trees will unfold spring after spring and tumble back to the earth autumn after autumn.