Colorado autumn, short and sweet. The mountains, from a distance, turned calico with swaths and spots of yellow where aspen groves glow. Crisp morning air. Virginia creeper and sumac turned rusty and red.
The sun had just come up behind the trees and I decided to take a walk before I had to wake up my sons. But when I tried to turn over, my body refused to move and a sharp pain in my left lower back, through the buttock and down the leg, reminded me that I'd be lucky to get out of bed, much less to take a walk. A blown out sacroiliac joint -- dumb, cursed result of bad-form lifting -- had me immobilized.
By the time I was able to wrench myself out of bed -- turn, wait, put feet down, wait, pull up, wait, reach for support, wait, lift from the quads, wait, straighten, wait, put one foot forward, wait -- the boys were already up and showering. Getting down the stairs was terrifying, but reminded me that in spite of my back, my legs still work.
Cursing myself on each step, I remembered with shame the times I've cavalierly dismissed others who told me their back was out -- how many times I've bragged, "I've never had a back problem." I will be a better friend, I silently recited as I crept down the stairs. I will offer sympathy and soup.
I drove the boys to school in the old automatic Volvo because lifting my left foot to push in the clutch of my car sends knives through my rear and lower back. From the CD player, Bruce Springsteen sang our favorite morning anthem, "Thunder Road." We sang along, getting louder at our favorite line: Show a little faith, there's magic in the night/ You ain't a beauty but, eh, you're all right.
Driving home, yellow trees shed their leaves across the Volvo's dirty windshield, reminding me again that this is the glory season. Getting out of the car proved far more difficult than getting in, but I managed it in less than five minutes.
The chiropractor recommended short periods of sitting, ice packs and regular walking, so I walked. Around the block, past adorable kindergarteners with huge backpacks skip-walking to the nearby elementary school; past neighbors walking their dogs; past closed gates and shuttered windows; past patches of marigold, past the last rose bloom of the season, a gorgeous white rose with a pink blush. My walking was slow, forcing a new, slower view of the things I passed.
I thought of my son in Missouri, training for active duty in the Army, and wondered if the woods there have turned red and orange and gold. This boy was a jumper into leaf piles when he was little, short and compact, fast and sure-footed. In the fall, he'd happily work with a rake twice his height to build a mountain of leaves he could later assault and destroy.
Around the corner, a neighbor, an old man, quietly bent over a broom, sweeping yellow leaves off the walkway leading to his front porch.
I thought of the lake in Nashville, Radnor Lake, where my sons and I walked each autumn when we lived in that part of the country, through virgin forest, trees so tall we couldn't see the sky, the boys turning over wet leaves to look for bugs. When we reached the lake, its surface reflecting the gaudy colors of the autumn leaves, the boys happily threw rocks, breaking the peaceful membrane of the water's skin, for as long as I would let them.
Approaching home, my gait loosened and the back felt some small relief. In the garden, seed pods stood stark and rigid above withered stems and leaves, next year's harvest, compact and waiting, headed for the ground and winter sleep. I looked again at the true autumn surrounding me, soon to flood the street and the gutter with falling leaves and remembered how quickly the season passes.
In a few days, a few weeks, I'll wake up to find the trees bare, the back pain gone, the transition to winter complete once again. The older son will be closer to coming home, at least for a short while, the younger ones closer to graduating and moving away. It is true autumn, the season that reminds us with its sudden startling beauty of the passing of all things great and small.