James Lileks: In fall, colors peak even as memory dulls

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 17, 2013 - 8:19 PM

There’s something I meant to say, but I can’t remember what. It was a great idea, too. Came to me in the shower. No, it wasn’t “undress first.” I have that written on the outside of the stall.

Oh! Right: I think I remember. OK if I start over? Thanks.

An article on a competing local news website — if you can imagine such a thing — had a list of things to do before the impending frostapocalypse. Break the news to your mums was not one of them; they never believe you anyway. “Check your furnace” was on the list, which may have sent people leaping from their seats to run downstairs and see if the furnace is OK. How you doin’? It’s all good? Just wanted to touch base.

I turned on the boiler the other day, hoping it was up for another season. It’s a talkative appliance. Tick-tick-tick-tick-tick as the pilot light igniter spits fire at the gas, then the joyful WHOOMPH! of eruption, followed by the gush and slosh of water coursing through the pipes; there’s the angry clang of a cold pipe getting the hot sauce for the first time since, oh, THE END OF JUNE, and the comforting aroma of domestic combustion that signals “coziness” but is really burning pet dander.

It’s the hinge of fall, the first furnace night; it’s the point when the warm days of yore are on the other side of the door, and you stand in the vestibule of winter, thinking you’ve really overdone this figure of speech. It also means penury: The gas bill will now resemble those sums you see in stories about the annual payout of the Powerball vs. the lump sum.

But it’s not enough to test it. You should check for drafts. If your windows are leaky, you might as well be shoving dollar bills through the cracks. Experts say you should light a candle near a window, blow it out, and see if the smoke reveals a draft. If so, fill a caulking gun with Super Glue, and —

Hold on, that’s not the thing I wanted to talk about. Close, but not right. Let me start again. It’s something about fall.

Oh: leaves. We’re not at peak leaf season, which is projected for Oct. 21, 3:15-4:57 p.m. This week contains the glory to come and the proud remains of summer. Around 4 p.m., the sunlight hits the leaves like a flood of honey, and the trees comprise an abstract mosaic that can never be repeated. Every hour in every day in every autumn is different from every one that’s come before. And you think:

I should go Up North and look at different trees.

Well, I do. Whenever there’s a report on the news about “peak color,” I feel as if there’s some Minnesota obligation to drive somewhere and stare at trees and marvel at the beauty, and then hear a loon and have s’mores. PEAK COLOR, PEOPLE. After this it’s done. People drive north, get out with cameras, behold a mass of bare limbs and scraggly brown, and some local gives them a pitying look: Ye’d be lookin’ for the color, might you? Sorry; it’s come and gone.

And you say, “Why are you talking like someone from Maine in a Stephen King book?” It’s uncomfortable after that. Point is, peak color comes to us. We don’t have to go to it. Our remarkable urban forest is why we live here. It’s not like “Instagrammed an elm in Duluth” is going to be in the first paragraph of your obit. You —

No. That wasn’t the idea. Too thin a concept for an entire column. Let me begin again.

A recent survey looked at American cities that provide ample raw material for a fresh start in life, and listed the Twin Cities as fourth. Without reading the story, I knew A) it’s nonsense, and B) our seasonal parade might be the reason. With spring, we find new hope. With winter, we go inside and rediscover the industrious spirit that brings the light of innovation to gladden our short dark days.

Or we go outside and shovel heavy wet snow, which leads to the invention of the pacemaker.

With fall, we sense the implacable hand of the clock at our back, and resolve to do the most with the time we have. Summer is the hammock; winter is the treadmill; fall is a staircase we can take down, or up. The beauty of a good fall makes you want to aspire. To climb. To —

Sorry, that’s wrong. The survey said this was the fifth best city, to start again. I’d like to do just that, but I’m out of space. I know I wanted to write something about fall, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what it was.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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