It is autumn once again. Once again I am swaying like the lingering leaves between bouts of euphoria over the stunning colors and sunshine, and moments of anxiety over the coming of the cold months. Tonight we set the clocks back which for me is a mental set back as well as a physical one. But in the meantime, I engage in the fall ritual of raking. We have two large cottonwood trees on our property, two apple trees, an apricot, red buds, catalpa and various other deciduous plants. Throughout the neighborhood I hear the drone of leaf blowers as the piles of organic detritus grow all along the curb.
Sometimes I use our leaf blower but mostly I prefer the old fashioned flat-tined rake. I can work it into crevices and between shrubs in the garden. I can get into the rhythm of the sonorous sounds of the rake against concrete. But mostly I can be outside in the long-shadowed sunshine, thinking mostly good thoughts. Today I am remembering two old friends, now gone, and how different my life might be if they were still around.
I was lucky to have grown up with the same four or five close male friends through junior high and high school and into college. I knew Jim from the sixth grade. He had a truly extraordinary intellect, a rapier wit, and an anarchic spirit. He and I spent countless hours in animated conversations, first on the school yard, later in smoky rooms or remote beaches or on long drives. Lots of talk about politics. About the future. It was during the Vietnam War era and Jim did not want to be drafted. Concerned about drawing a low lottery number, he instead joined the Navy. But several years later he died under mysterious circumstances while stationed in southern Spain. Ironically, when his lottery number came up it was high enough to have kept him from the draft. He was only 24 years old.
Ron was a charge-ahead lover of life, inveterate prankster, gifted photographer, and wild man. He was physically large but limber like a cartoon character. When he and I would perform our comedy shtick (usually under the influence but sometimes not), he could pick me up and toss me like a rag doll and I could pop up again laughing and unhurt. We’d go off on photo junkets to the redwoods or the coast or Golden Gate Park full of ideas and mirth. After he got married, he and his wife moved to Seattle and he became a dad. He was only 34 when he died of a rare form of cancer. His son was less than two.
Five close male friends, two of them gone in their youth. Quite an attrition rate, and one that has left me wondering. If Ron and Jim were still around, what kind of relationship would we still have…or would we have any? Would we still be on the same page politically? Would we dig each other’s families? Would our lives be similar enough that we could share in the subtle pleasures of a quiet autumn day and a well-raked lawn?
The older I get the more I miss those two guys…the opportunities to reminisce about the old days and celebrate the new ones. They are gone but I have sixty-five autumns under my belt and, hopefully, lots more leaves to rake.