October 10, 2012

Autumn Leaves

October used to be an edgy time of the year for me. I arrived in Vietnam sometime during the first week in October, and for many years afterward I experienced what the psychologists call the anniversary syndrome, feelings of anxiety associated with some prior traumatic event. I prefer the more poetic expression used by Marcel Proust: la recherche du temps perdu, or the remembrance of lost time ... the residue of a close encounter with fate.

Those days in Vietnam are indeed lost time. The images in my mind's eye fade, but autumn still leaves me feeling uneasy. The pressure of past events is no longer there. Now it is the pressure of an uncertain future as I stand on the cusp of the winter of my life. The time of my life is now mostly seen as a receding landscape in the rear-view mirror. There is no getting around it. But rather than worry about it, I make ready for another spring, as if nothing will change. An act of faith? Or have I merely arrived at the first stage of grieving for lost time: denial?

Better to put such thoughts aside and focus on the immediate task at hand. The flower beds need to be mulched. The grass trimmed and cut one last time (hopefully). The detritus of the summer vegetable garden cleared away. And so spading fork and eco-friendly paper lawn trash bags in hand, I ready myself for a final harvest of weeds and dying tomato plants.

Instead, I find a dead opossum. He had somehow managed to get through the chicken wire that surrounds my little vegetable garden but wasn't clever enough to find the way out. He lay between my pepper plants, looking for all the world like a gigantic rat. I'd be lying if I said it didn't give me a bit of a start, followed by a new feeling of uneasiness, this time in the pit of my stomach. At any rate, that explains the frantic barking by our dog Mabel that my wife heard a couple of nights ago.

Now what? My neighbor said I should throw it out with the trash. Somehow that didn't seem right, but a call to Animal Control confirmed that course of action. I got a plastic lawn bag, and after a moment's hesitation, I gathered up the dead opossum with my spading fork and deposited it into the plastic bag. I put it in a spare recycling bin by the side of the house. Somehow, that seemed a fitting repository.

The next two hours were spent under a muggy sky uprooting weeds and old vegetable plants. The now full lawn trash bags stood at attention beside the dead opossum, forming a mute honor guard for the dead season. Another cycle was complete. Tonight I would ponder the cleansed landscape from the sanctuary of my deck. If my gaze strayed to the vegetable garden, I would try not to think of the emptiness behind those eyes staring up at me from the ground.

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