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Gary Borders: 'Tis the season for glorious walks in the Piney Woods (if someone else rakes them)

Sam the Dog and I walked in the early morning darkness the other day after a blue Norther blew through. I was bundled up against the wind, Sam tugging against the leash, enjoying the drop in temperatures. Leaves skittered across the pavement, which made a naturally skittish dog occasionally flinch. Even after more than two years of affection and living the good life, Sam still bears psychic scars. He was clearly mistreated before my wife found him lying up the hill in the street two years ago, with matted smelly fur and a look of resignation in his eyes. He had given up. Either that or he sensed my wife would be an easy target for a stray dog lying in the street.

Sam, a poodle/cocker spaniel mix, became a project. It took a few months before he could be trusted inside unattended. He is not the brightest light on the porch. What Sam lacks in intelligence he makes up for in loyalty and affection. And he will walk with us until the cows come home, often doing 3.5 miles with me in the morning, and the same distance that afternoon with my wife.

As we walked along, the sun began to rise, sending thin beams of light through the trees, illuminating the changing foliage. Autumn is my favorite season, with its changing light and array of colors. The brightest colors come from the trashiest trees, and the scrubby, weedy brush along the road. It is their brief moment of glory before winter’s chill strips them of their leaves, and they are relegated to weed status once again. That day is soon approaching.

At our house, which has about 50 trees of all varieties in the front and back yards — pine, oak, maple, sweetgum, Japanese maple — it looks like a spindly hardwood out front has also bitten the dust. Its leaves turned brown in August, never a good sign. We’ll wait until spring before pronouncing it dead and turning it into firewood. I hate to see trees die, but they have lifespans like all God’s creatures.

With autumn’s arrival, I relinquish yard duties that are relatively light in spring and summer. A man and his teen-aged son show up every Saturday and blow and bag leaves for $35, a bargain since it would take me at least half a day. They work fast and can usually finish in an hour or so, leaving a half-dozen or so large bags at the curb. The first year we moved in, I raked and bagged nearly 150 large sacks since I wasn’t working and couldn’t justify paying someone else. Talk about a strong incentive to seek employment.

The swimming pool has been covered and winterized, pumps shut down and drained. That means for the next five months I won’t have to worry about something breaking that costs me money. The old saw goes that getting one’s first swimming pool marks the second-happiest day of your life. You can probably guess what will be the happiest day. A friend told me once that owning a pool is the equivalent of walking out there and tossing a couple C-notes into the water every month. He has been proven right.

Soon we will once more gather around the outdoor firepit on the deck, visiting with a friend and grilling a couple steaks. There is something compelling about a crackling fire warding off the night chill as darkness surrounds us. As I build a fire and keep it going, I am always reminded of country editor William Allen White’s adage: “There are three things that no one can do to the entire satisfaction of anyone else: poke the fire, make love and edit a newspaper.”

Wise words from a famous sage. 

Gary Borders has been an East Texas journalist and editor for more than 40 years. He works now as a freelance writer, editor and photographer. You can see his work at garyborders.com. He has written for World Wildlife magazine, Texas Monthly, Texas Observer and Airstream Life.
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