The birch leaf had gone flying, flying, and had lost its way. It got caught in the needles of a juniper tree beside the house and couldn’t get free. Up under the gable, an unilluminated spotlight kept watch over the garden from the end of its rusty eyestalk. It was the day in early October when the ant drones swarm up out of the ground, climb to the top of the nearest blade of grass or shrunken head of a weed, and take to the air on flimsy, disposable wings. A few of them would get to mate; most would not. All would die soon.
That night, high winds heralded the arrival of the cold. The leaf was ripped from the juniper’s prickly embrace and sent tumbling far out over the dark forest, where oaks creaked and rattled their branches and acorns thudded down like hailstones. It fell in a wide gyre through the crown of a chestnut oak, slipped through the outspread branches of the understorey gums and landed at the edge of a moss-covered clearing. The wind hissed in the dry, drought-curled foliage of the lowbush blueberries and rustled through the forest litter — the fallen leaves that had preceded the birch leaf in death. They lay dozens deep, whole leaves together with those that had been riddled by caterpillars or skeletonized by leaf miners, and let molds and bacteria begin the slow work of turning them into loam.
Another reminder to keep an eye out for spooky trees.