First grade, then second, all the way through fifth was, quite simply, one day of amazement after another. The low, flat mid-20th century architecture that was Mattie Lively Elementary School presented not a clue to the casual observer that within its red brick walls astonishment turned to wonder, magic conjured by nothing more extraordinary than chalkboards and tempera paint and construction paper.
Most mesmerizing of all were the science documentaries in which time lapse photography was utilized to demonstrate how the moon moved across the sky, how tadpoles turned into frogs, how a bud became a rose. In the necessary darkness, my slack-jawed marveling went unnoticed. Leaning forward so far as to almost touch the head of the classmate in front of me, I believed if I stared hard enough, held my eyes open without blinking that I could identify the very moment of metamorphosis. The moment when what was became what is.
To be honest, I could not have articulated that at 8 or 9. But, then, I didn’t need to. It was enough to feel it.
The weather today was especially balmy for early November. The sky was Crayola cornflower blue and it was warm enough that I had to change from long sleeves. The breeze was just substantial enough to ruffle the leaves still dangling on the trees, but the landscape was, otherwise, quiet and still.
Leaving the stands of pine trees behind as I walked, I heard a popping sound, syncopated and soft. Acorns, I realized, were falling. Into the dusty red clay, they bounced like balls, landing haphazardly in piles or rolling into seclusion as if acorns can be introverts. Some had been crushed by wide truck tires, spreading their pumpkin-colored insides across the road like Rorschach inkblots.
Yesterday they were not falling. Yesterday they were dangling from the scrub oaks that line the road, bright green ball bearings wearing jaunty berets. And yesterday they were not a time machine carrying me back to childhood and dim classrooms where I first learned to stare at things that are alive, that morph from one stage to another imperceptibly.
I stop and stare. I have questions. At what moment did they start letting go? Was it sometime in the night when the temperature dropped? Did they shiver and lose their grasp? Was it this morning as the sun began drying up the dew? Did their stems release them like a hot pot handle?
The answers afforded us by falling acorns and budding roses are not always satisfactory. They tell us that clear lines — a sure before and a fixed after — are not always knowable. Which stitch transforms a skein of yarn into a sweater. Which brick makes a wall. Which word, which touch, which smile turns a friend into a lover.
Falling acorns and budding roses are here, it seems, to remind us that life, not just elementary school, is meant to be one day of amazement after another. They teach us, often in the dimness where shapes are smudged and sounds are muffled, that we would do well to lay aside our stop watches and simply watch.