A Few Red Leaves

A Few Red Leaves

This post is contributed by Barnaby Porter from his archives. Read the previous post here.


There are signs that September is afoot. I heard a woman worriedly discussing caterpillars in the hardware store. (I find it interesting that hardware men’s expertise in paints and faucet washers somehow bestows on them authority to hold forth on all matters concerning natural history.) The conversation progressed from woolly bears to the few splashes of red the woman had noticed in the swamp maples that morning, and from there to what might be taken for an untoward crispness in the night air. There was urgency in her voice, yet she didn’t make it exactly clear what was unnerving her so. I had to leave so never heard her out.

A couple of days later I was gazing up our road to where it disappears around a bend. It was early, and there were misty light beams slanting through the trees. A faint blue haze had caught my eye. It looked like smoke. A swirling little cloud of gnats or midges was what it was, hanging in a pool of sunlight, giving it substance like a vapor. Then, beyond it, a miraculous, silvery spider’s thread looped 30 feet across the road and into the shadowy woods. I had dressed for end of summer weather, but September was in the air. I could feel it on my arms and through the thinness of my shirt. Where I stood was deeper in shade than a month ago. And it dawned on me – September is coming, and it might even be already here.

Such signs as furrowed the brow of the lady in the hardware store might be worrisome to someone with nothing to look forward to, to someone who doesn’t welcome them for what they are but dwells instead on what they mean. Perhaps to lament the signs of changing weather is something that comes with age.

Ten years ago, on an early September morning, a shiny-faced five-year-old appeared at the side of his parents’ bed. They couldn’t see him very well – it was still dark and only four o’clock in the morning. It was his first day of school. He was all dressed in his new clothes, his hair slicked down, and he wanted to know if it was too early to walk to the end of the road to wait for the school bus.

Yes, it did seem a little early, but we thought we’d better get up and get some breakfast into that kid; he seemed determined to get going. It happened to be an unusually cold morning with a frosty nip to it. After a couple of hours eating oatmeal, packing up his lunch box and shining a nice red apple for his teacher, Elijah put on his new winter (!) coat, and he and I headed off to meet the bus at the end of the road.

The very first day of school is a tearful one in a parent’s life, but not so for my son. He was so excited that he waved to the bus when it first appeared around the bend. It braked to a stop with the rumbling sheet metal sound that only school buses seem to make. The door opened and the kind-faced driver gave a cheerful smile. Lije clambered up the steps, looking back once, a little afraid, and then sat in the first seat behind the driver. He was the first child onboard, the first kid on the route. As the bus turned around and drove away, I could see a little face pressed against the window – my son, off to deal with a new world, and only 5 years old.

Woolly bears and a few red leaves are not something one should worry about, and certainly nothing to exercise hardware men over. Instead, they should be taken for what they are, just another sign of change and perhaps of a bright beginning.

green ferns and red leaves


Barnaby PorterArtist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. In October 2021, Barnaby completed his tenure on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees after six years of service.

Ferns photo by Barnaby Porter.