Celebrating Yellow Time
October 6, 2016 § Leave a comment
There is a row of ginkgo trees that the kids and I used to pass every morning on our drive to school. For six years, beginning in early October, we would watch as the trees’ leaves transformed into a beguiling bright yellow—one of the purest, most saturated articulations of yellow that I have ever come across in the natural world. And still, we quivered in anticipation, because we knew that the best part was still to come.
Every ginkgo yields to the mysterious fate of losing all its leaves at the exact same moment. If you can catch the release—and we were lucky enough to do so on a few occasions—it is like a delicate rainfall of sunshine. If you miss it, you still have a few hours to catch the luminous carpet of gold that billows on the sidewalk beneath the bare boughs. It is infectious. It is magical. It softens the blow of winter’s coming and returns us to the present of fall, the most impressively beautiful of the seasons.
Blink and you’ll miss it, though. Which is why we have to be ready to savor the fleeting beauty. Before we know it, the leaves dry up and clear out. The damp, crisp air sets in, and the darkness infringes on our after-school hours. The pumpkins on the doorsteps decay, if they don’t get eaten by squirrels first. The only apples left on the trees are too high for us to reach.
Lauren Stringer coins autumn Yellow Time in her lush and lovely new picture book, which beams with the essence of this magnificent season as seen through the eyes of children (Ages 3-6). It’s a cover that catches your eye across the bookstore and beckons you over (at least, it did me). Stringer is no novice to capturing the spirit of the seasons (nothing sends my kids straight to the pantry for hot cocoa faster than Winter is the Warmest Season). Nor is she a stranger to glorious monochromatic aesthetics, which we might remember from the washes of green against which a girl dances in the sublime Deer Dancer.
E.B. White wrote a letter to a class of sixth graders in 1973, thanking them for sending him their creative essays (bear with me: our household is E.B. White Obsessed right now, in no small part owing to Melissa Sweet’s new illustrated biography—more about this in upcoming weeks). White concluded his letter, “I was pleased that so many of you felt the beauty and goodness of the world. If we can feel that when we are young, then there is great hope for us when we grow older.”
Lauren Stringer makes children see the natural world and love every bit of it.
In Yellow Time, Stringer is concerned with the moment just before and just after the leaves fall, the period of time in which the crows are cawing but the “geese have already gone,” and the squirrels are “too busy to notice.” That moment when the leaves surrender their grip on the branches and swirl to the ground, leaving little hands to explore and rake and gather them up to press between pages of books.
Children run in
the yellow air.
They let it catch their hair
and cover their sweaters.
They jump and turn
in yellow time.
Stringer’s loose, poetic prose mirrors the sleepy, dream-like quality of fall. Much like the way we feel when we catch the filtered sunlight hitting a bale of hay after a busy afternoon spent picking (golden-delicious) apples.
Just before yellow time,
the air smells different.
Like wet mud and dry grass
with a sprinkle of sugar.
I was so struck by the loveliness of this book that I decided to donate a copy to my daughter’s Montessori classroom, in the spirit of Emily’s recent fall birthday. At six years of age, Emily works alongside three, four, and five year olds, and the rainbow of skin tones and hair colors in her classroom is a beautiful sight. Stringer’s book echoes the diversity of our American communities, where neighborhood children of different ages and ethnicities take to the streets in a shared enjoyment of fall.
Yellow Time reminds us and our children that the fleetingness of fall magic will soon be upon us. The book reminds us to be alert, to open our eyes, to run outside while we can still be parka-less and twirl in the cascades of yellow (and red and orange and, yes, even brown). As the wind picks up, we will pull up our sweatshirt hoods and breathe in giant gulps of it.
This fall, with both children at a new school, a different morning commute means that we no longer drive by the ginkgo trees. I nearly forgot about them until I opened these pages for my children, and my son reminded me. “You’re right,” I replied, suddenly crest-fallen, recalling the delightful anticipation in our car when we would turn onto the ginkgos’ street. I considered, briefly and silently, how fall is as much about change and loss as it is about precious rituals and awe-inspiring beauty.
But my daughter was quick to reassure me: “Don’t be sad, Mommy. We’re going to keep our eyes peeled and find lots of new yellow.” And, truth to told, the yellow mums on our porch are already looking pretty great.
It only comes
once a year.
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