The Memory of Leaves

So fellow travelers, all Sunday afternoon my husband and I scurried about to finish the yard chores before the gift of strangely warm weather ended.

Usually by this time in the season, we are outside working in winds so chilly it is not uncommon to see snow flurries drifting among the last of the falling leaves.  Our dog barked persistently at the mower as my husband raced around and around the yard, madly mulching and gathering up leaves, stopping only to empty the bagger or unclog the chute. As he dumped piles in each area I pointed to with the rake, I spread the piles of chopped leaves evenly through different garden beds.  The thick layer of chopped leaves protects tender plants through our long harsh winter and acts as deterrent to rapid weed growth in the spring. In between cycles of raking, I pulled the last the weeds from various hiding spots, now laid bare by the receding garden and naked bushes.  The sky was a dramatic panorama of grey clouds racing across a brilliant blue sky, the sun playing hide and seek all afternoon.

dogwood leaf edit

This season, autumn has given us an unusual array of colors with pockets of polished mahogany browns, rich golden yellows with dashes of blood red against a backdrop of barren grey and white trees which dropped their leaves earlier than usual.  I’ve been told these are the effects of summer’s excessively dry ending.  Some people have complained about the “lack of fall color,” but for me it has been a tremendous lesson in seeing things in a whole new light.

I’ve been experiencing a lot of my life in a new light. With my youngest daughter now away at college I have more freedom to choose when I can do the things I enjoy.  There is however this new challenge of being a Long Distance Mom. She recently went through the doubt and longing phase most freshmen experience.  In her case, being all the way across the Pacific in Tokyo means she can not just come home for a weekend as her older sister did during her freshman year. Fortunately, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we Skype as often as we can make the time difference work out.


The view  from my daughter’s dorm apartment.

This is her first experience of living on her own and she is tackling the challenge in the largest city in the world which also happens to be in another country. She learning to cook and care for herself, manage on a budget,  navigate a complex and obsessively efficient system of public transportation while learning a new language and getting acclimated to a different culture.  My daughter is not homesick in the sense of wanting to “quit and come home.” She is feeling adrift because she is going through a transitional time in life where her foundations have shifted and she has not yet made all the connections to know quite what it is she is looking for.  Loving Japanese culture as much as she does, I know she was not expecting to find it so challenging to settle in but there are elements of the Temple University program which do not lend itself well to helping students feel connected. TUJ lacks a full campus; the dorms (which are gender specific, a requirement of the Japanese educational system)  are spread out  from each other and also far across the city from TUJ’s center of operations. Classes are held in a converted office building which long outgrew the capacity to house the students attending classes.


The TUJ “campus”

Essentially, there is no central gathering place for students, a critical component for freshmen needing to make connections in their first months away from home.   These are factors we were well aware of, since her older sister attended TUJ for her semester of study abroad.  It makes a difference dealing with the program’s short comings as a freshman looking at several years of studying versus a junior attending for just one semester.  In addition, my younger daughter has found the courses she is taking surprisingly easy; she is in fact bored and disappointed in the academic aspect of her experience (this is a kid who voluntarily took a college level calculus class her senior year in high school because she loves math .)

We’ve worked through her doubts and concerns, me trying my best to let her talk things out and come to her own conclusions. I went through a lot of what she’s experiencing when I traveled the same distance (in reverse) to come to Syracuse University for college. I didn’t have the benefit of Skype or email in though days; I didn’t even own a computer. It took ten to fourteen days for letters to go back and forth to Korea where my family was living at that time. Living in the US for the first time in nearly a decade there was definitely substantial culture shock; at least I was not trying to learning a new language at the same time.

My daughter is a determined and tough kid. There is so much of Japan she still wants to experience (which is part of her push pull dilemma about whether to transfer or stay) so she’s committed to finishing her freshman year at the TUJ campus.  We also finally resolved the banking transfer problems we had not anticipated having (the absurdity of Japanese banking is an entire topic unto itself.  I will not bore you with the details) so we can get money to her more easily and she can feel less stressed about finances. Let’s leave it as I am distinctly peeved it took three months to figure out and I came close to paying for a round trip ticket just to give that kid of mine a hug.

So it’s no surprise that last Sunday my eyes filled with sudden tears when the sun filtered through the trees and hit the mountain of leaves just right, flooding my mind with memories of the sound of two young girls laughing and playing in the leaves, writing these words from my heart.

The Memory of Leaves

Golden sun lit leaves

Echoes of laughter through time

The leaves wait for you.


Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Deborah H Rahalski

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