WITH your Jack Frost brush, wazzle onto your leaf all your favorite colors, dabbing orange-peel orange, sunflower yellow, imperial purple, dribbling and splattering with stupendous touches of chocolate brown and inky black, stippling and brushing fantastic texture, fabulous depth of color! True artistry! Perfection for endless admiration, suitable for framing, worth writing home about - obviously a masterpiece, your gilded leaf is now ready for a sail into the wild and windy sky. And as long as you are into this Jack Frost act, fly back from your leafy canvas and admire your work. Great fun, especially when the leaf happens to be at the very tip top of a big old maple tree. Jack Frost zaps through the air, looping the loop, sliding sideways, outdoing the slowpoke hummingbird. Jack Frost, who comes around when summer surrenders to cool nights and freezing dawns, when the frost is on the pumpkin, and frost is on the leaf.
My vast knowledge of Jack Frost was learned from Miss Ida May Polley, who taught the lower grades in Beaumont, Calif., back when orange groves and $3,500 bungalows dotted southern California between chicken ranches.
A kindly lady with permanently waved brown hair, parted in the middle over eyes that could see clear through you, she wore rather long dresses with large flowery prints and white lace collars. She never hinted in the first grade that the terrors of long division lay ahead, or that we should ever have to study where the Great Wall of China was. Beaumont was neither New nor Old England, but leaves turned, and that brought up Jack Frost.
Miss Polley saw for herself, and made real for us, this cool character with wings and a paint pot (he got all of his different colors out of one pot, you understand), zapping through the trees, enjoying his work while all the world slept.
During a teaching seminar on Monitor writing style firmly given long ago by an editor of this newspaper to some trembling copy kids, it was pronounced that one should not use the word autumn when one meant fall. Or was it the other way around? I forget. Anyway, he said it was important. He also took a moment to explain how it is that trees turned color during this splendid season.
He only adjusted his nose glasses when I brought up Jack Frost, and hurried on in a louder voice to say that it was severe frost that kills the leaves before they can turn color, that the yellow pigment in almost all foliage was present in interior cells, simply masked all summer by the green pigments. That when the life in the leaf cell goes, so does the green, leaving us with yellow and gold and glory. Sunlight and poor soil add to the effect.
Well, of course we took notes of his enlightening explanation, but it wasn't as much fun as Miss Polley's version. Jack Frost was a Tinker Bell type, a microscopic superman long before Batman, rescuing the world from the boredom of all those green leaves. He was, moreover, a member in good standing of the Union of Elves, Fairies, and Assorted Toadstool Sitters, real to our eyes, and an important figure in Miss Polley's classroom landscape.
Winds (and Beaumont was windy), would toss leaves high in the sky, making an airy forest that once descended should not be raked up right away, that scrunched underfoot, that we dove into piles of, that you brought inside on damp boots (``I told you to wipe your feet).''
Looking up under a tree in the morning the leaves glowed like stained glass, and the warm sunshine from the blue butterfly sky melted away any frosty footprints that Jack Frost might have left during the chilly dawn, during still another autumn, another fall.