A grand finale, all at once

It lasted about 30 minutes. Then the ground was covered in a six-inch carpet of gold, and the tree was bare except for a few leaves.

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    THE ROMANCE OF FALL: Golden leaves cling to a tree on a late autumn day in St. Gallen, Switzerland.
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There are moments in life when something wonderful happens and it fills you with so much joy that it makes you smile one of those nose- wrinkling, cheek-stretching, teeth-showing smiles. I had one of those moments a few years back.About 30 years ago I bought an unusual-looking tree. I saw it standing off to one side in a row of trees at a local nursery. It was about four feet tall and had fan-shaped leaves and gnarly-looking bark. The lady who owned the nursery said it was a ginkgo tree and that it was supposed to be the oldest species of tree alive today. I confess I just liked the bumpy bark and unusual shape of the leaves.

I planted it between the house and the garage, and now it stands about 25 feet high in the middle of my rock garden.

Every year it drops a huge pile of leaves because it is a deciduous tree. I love the sound of the word "deciduous." It rolls off your tongue like a tasty morsel of food, and if you say it two or three times in a row it sounds even better. Right?

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Anyway, I really like this tree. Its branches are kind of twisted and the bigger the tree grows, the larger the leaves become. I also love the range of colors it displays throughout the year. It starts leafing out in the spring - a beautiful bright green, turning to a muted green, on to a light yellow, and finally into a deep, brilliant gold.

For about 20 years, I never gave a thought about how or when my ginkgo dropped its leaves. One day they were on the tree, and then maybe there was a rainstorm and they would all be on the ground.

But one morning about eight years ago it happened.

The weather had been freezing at night, but the days were bright and sunny. I was sitting at the kitchen table with a bowl of cereal when something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye.

I glanced out the window and thought it was snowing. Then I realized it was the leaves of my ginkgo tree falling. I leaned over and peered out the window thinking that a bird or animal was up in the tree knocking the leaves off. But there were no birds or squirrels.

All of a sudden I realized that the tree was dropping its leaves - all at once - on its own. I jumped up and ran outside. It was a magnificent sight.

I stood there with my mouth open as I watched the leaves fall to the ground. It was a shower of gold. Beautiful little fans were gently flitting and floating to the ground. Some were twirling, and others fell slowly as though they were golden snowflakes.

It was a moment of pure joy. I could feel my heart swelling with happiness as I stood there smiling and thinking what a privilege it was to see this glorious display of nature.

Then all of a sudden I realized I hadn't been wearing any shoes when I dashed outside. The cement was icy, and so were my bare feet. I ran inside, grabbed my shoes, and hurried back out so I wouldn't miss a moment of this amazing sight.

It lasted about 30 minutes. Then the ground was covered in a six-inch carpet of gold, and the tree was bare except for a few leaves that clung tenaciously to their branches before letting go the next morning.

Every year since that wonderful morning, I have tried to be home when the leaves drop.

One year my ginkgo and I were surprised by an early cold front that swept in while we were still having warm, sunny fall days. The tree dropped all its leaves while they were still bright green. Because of our wet coastal climate, many times the leaves are ripped off by the wind and rain before they are ready to fall on their own. Those years I feel a little cheated.

The past few nights, the weather has been getting colder although the sun is still warming the days. The leaves of my ginkgo are just beginning to turn light yellow on the tips. And I am watching and waiting.

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