Saturday, September 25, 2010

Telling Time

I'm sitting against the trunk of the enormous, time-telling maple tree at Pleasant Street and Mass. Ave., the center of Arlington Center.

It's Arlington's Town Day, so there is a lot going on around me. Heavy traffic at the Fried Dough booths, kids firing cap pistols at each other and sometimes me, and a few feet away, the AHS Boys' Soccer Club Soccer Shoot-out, with kids lined up, trying to throw a soccer ball through a hole in a board dressed in soccer shirt and shorts, which is suspended from a tree limb. Not exactly the peaceful interlude I had in mind. Mostly I'm being ignored, but an occasional young pair of eyes sizes me up as a borderline Old Geezer.

All trees tell time (secretly, ring by ring), but this tree does it so centrally and so conspicuously that Arlingtonians look to it as a bellwether of the seasons. I can see from my trunk-leaning vantage point that most of the leaves are still green, but there are a good dozen patches of orange to red at different locations. I suspect these will spread over the next week and come Oct. 1, green will be the minority color. It already is in many of the honey locust trees lining Mass. Ave.

For all the advance of fall, it was unseasonably warm today. Summer redux, sort of—or more like a visit from summer, unable to stay away from the office. Just don't call it Indian summer, which is elevated untimeliness. Tomorrow it's back to the seasonable sixties.

Gauging what's timely and what's not is a major occupation nowadays. It feels like summer but it looks like fall. Although there are still summerish flowers, summerish birds. Swallows (ready to take off), warblers (on their way south). Short sleeves on Saturday, long sleeves on Sunday. Green light!

In other seasons, there's a similar telling of time: the unseasonably warm day in March, the January thaw, accelerating and retarding of what we expect the day to be, based on...well, a lot of calendars, old magazine covers, learning the seasons in kindergarten, and enough seasons under our belt to work out a rough average.

Time has rules, we were taught. The o'clocks. Suppertime. Bedtime. And then we learned how to apply those rules to pleasures and opportunities. ("Hey, kids! What time is it?" IT'S HOWDY DOODY TIME!) Sure, why not create new times to suit the content, not just the old way of tailoring the content (planting crops, etc.) to suit the time.

So what's different about this season? Not sure. Maybe it's that sense that we're running out of time. New 2011 calendars on display. Loose-leaf September, heading inevitably to bare-tree November. Maybe there is something to those pensive lyrics in "September Song": Oh the days dwindle down to a precious few. September! November! Enough to watch time-telling trees, listen to time-counting crickets, and be more attentive to the pace of the time that's left before we put in the effort to pump up the new momentum at the time that's right, be it January, February, June or July...

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