The reminder box popped up on the screen, and the text stabbed at his heart: “August 20: Begin weather watch.”
Launching the little search of the climate conditions was the first step in their annual expedition up into the mountains, or had been.
They almost had it down to a science, not surprisingly, after all these years. The brilliance was determined by the advent of the cooler air, and how early that happened. How much snowfall the previous winter had brought and when the melt-off began controlled the proliferation.
The color mix. Now that was always the wild card. Sometimes the high altitude hillsides, crowded with aspens, snuggled in a blanket of pure sunlight. Other times, a reddish-burgundy robe was the order of the day. And the ‘fire ones,’ the label applied by the five-year-old version of himself. How they burned!
Around a bend: the first glimpse shows itself. Oohs and aahs of mother and son filled the car, warming them from within.
Every fall, at the same point in their drive, his fiery mother, ‘young beyond her years,’ made the solemn proclamation that began her speech.
“Put your sunglasses on, Boy. We’re driving into God’s glory.”
“Autumn is my favorite time of year-—you know that by now, don’t you? I love the snappy quality of the air. I love the leaf-burning smell that rises from Ralph’s back yard, just far enough away to get the tang to my nose.
“A cycle begins again—-school buses carrying kiddies off to learn, I get the urge to get out the cookbooks and do some baking.
“The world seems to be turning to the rest period.” A thoughtful silence. Almost to herself, but always mentioned: “And I can sleep so much better. So important, so taken-for-granted by most folks.”
Here his recollections faltered. Sleeping wasn’t a problem for her, near the end. Her flaming red hair, of a carefully chosen color, had gone first, the spark of her eyes had sputtered after. His shoulders sagged as another grief storm hit, and he rode it out, literally shrugging off a persistent intangible nudging.
The storm cleared, and the anger rolled in. Why? I don’t understand. Why her?
He disliked residing in that angry place for long, and turned his mind from it, seeking the memory.
Back in the car, the right praise music tape playing. As the miles rolled on and the climb grew steeper, the winds buffeting the car gained a little oomph. Of course they chose a day during peak leaf-viewing time that had some high winds predicted. That was a key. Her voice picked up in his mind.
“Look at the aspens there, Son. Some folks call them ‘Quivering Aspens,’ some call them ‘Shaking Aspens.’ Which do you think they’re doing today?”
One year, when he was about nine, he’d replied that he believed they should be called ‘Wiggling Aspen,’ and, oh, how they’d both laughed.
Each leaf moved, somehow on its own and in concert with the others at the same time. The leaves of one tree waved at those of the neighbor, and each subdivision ebbed and flowed. States and regions made their remarks in interpretive dance, and the entire nation of a mountainside reveled in movement, together and opposed, small and large, a heavenly mix.
He pointed, and made the observation she always let him make first: “A fire one!”
The mix of colors was breathtaking, from white-yellow down through the golds, from sunny orange down to flaky rust, from screaming strawberry down into maroon, with browns of every range making their presence known.
The colors and the movement married, making cool, living flame.
“The cleansing fire, my boy, do you see it? I know it’s hard to understand, but God uses fire to burn away impurities and leave a clean spot, perfect for Him to inhabit. Please, please remember this: there’s no sin so awful, no attitude so foul that God can’t burn it away and leave you clean, if you’ll just let Him. I won’t always be there to be your Mom, but God will always be your Father. Lean on Him, and don’t be shy about it.”
He broke. “Okay, God, burn me. Get rid of this resentment toward You, and blow away the ash.” The rest of his prayer dissolved into a weepy language, but fortunately God speaks that, too.
He cleared the reminder from the computer screen and began the weather search. He looked forward to seeing the first ‘fire one.’
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