The 19th day of September

September looks warm and welcoming, but she keeps a cool steel scissors in her apron pocket. Now and again she snips a ribbon of wind. I shiver as I leave the house, pulling my sweater about me. The sunlight glazes our cut stone wall and darts through the flicking locust leaves. The green fronds move swiftly, like my mother's fingers on piano keys.

I have no planned destination, so I head east and cut through the small park and playground. It's deserted now. The children are back in school. The grass is long.

I dig my feet into the worn and dusty path and whril myself about on the merry-go- round, much as I did as a child half a century ago. The slide is a challenge. I glance quickly toward the windows of the houses nearby, but I don't really care if there are faces there. I note that the legs at the base of the slide are broken. That could be disastrous; I might be plopped in the mud. Risks turn moments into mementos, I decide. The downward sweep in extra steep because of the buckled lower legs. The swish is so exhilarating that I retrace my climb and rerisk another slide.

I climb the grassy bank to walk the path along the reservoir. Far ahead, outlined against the sky, I see two men cutting the grass. One leans toward his machine, again and again jerking the rope to re-start the motor. I walk a great distance, and almost reach him before he finally gets it going. The men smile and wave. Their lips shape greetings I do not hear above the roar of the power mowers.

Farther on I sit on the rocky slope and wish for a pond more natural, but water soothes, even in a reservoir. A few fish jump and echoing rings explode around their vanishing point.

I've walked almost two miles before I swoop down the grassy bank and lose sight of a flock of ducks bobbing on the water. I head back toward the pathway through the park.

From the tall grass near the gate something suddenly flies in front of me and lands a few feet ahead.It's much too large for a grasshopper. Aha! a praying mantis. I kneel besie it. We are parallel and both positioned as in prayer. I laugh when the realization strikes me. It seems apropos as we study each other in fascination and in wonder: strange, unique facets of creation and re-creation; two parts of that magical ongoing process.

The mantis has the look of a mechanical toy (a live body wouldn't bend the way his does). Even his movement seems mechanized as he turns his triangular head toward me. The long antennae shoot outward. In the upper corners of his three-sided face are two mammoth bright green eyes. In amazement, I note he has pupils just like mine! Then the tiny black pin dots sort of float to the top of the green circles. He looks cross- eyed and I tell him that.

As if insulted, he turns his head away looking straight ahead. I laugh and apologize, "I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings. Come on now, look around again at me." And he does!

His long delicate back legs, like jointed nylon thread with fringed ends for feet, rest lightly on the tops of blades of grass. Still he balances there, swaying with a strong wave of wind. He unfolds one front praying leg . . . or "hand."

The wings on his back are brown and glossy. They look like the thin tobacco leaves that wrap a cigar. I pick blades of grass and wave them in front of him, and when I almost touch him with a plucked dandelion leaf, he flies away, his wings flapping in the September sun. He sails into a roofed shelter house and I follow, looking in the rafters and on the cement floor, but I've lost him, for his shape disappeared when he left the sun and entered the shade of the building.

I take the homeward path. Three great lumps, and then a fourth, erupt from the asphalt walk. My first thought is moles, but moles couldn't crawl under macadam walkways. And there are no tunnels, just hills raised high with crumbling centers. I look into the craters hoping to mee the guilty culprits. And I am not disappointed. Small seedlings are burstling through, making mountains, buckling stone and tar that they may smile at the sky. They never stopped to consider this is September. How brief their season in the sun but how contagious their celectration!

How blind we become to the ongoing miracle of creation. Some days it takes a walk in the sun, a praying mantis, or an erupting seed to reawaken the wonder that is second nature to a child.

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