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THE WORLD BELOW : Now, With the Flowers Gone and Even the Weeds Waning, the Twigs Are the Thing

October 20, 1985|MIV SCHAAF

On the path down to the arroyo--my path; there are many paths; you choose your own--there is always something new. True, more often than not it is a bunch of broken beer bottles, but one must learn to look beyond the negative. Maybe the buds are just coming out on those tall, goldenroddy-looking things, or look--all the green weed stalks have turned hay-colored. All at once, fall is here.

Today the weeds are all hay-colored and dead--if weeds are ever dead. In October you are not distracted by colors, flowers, leaf shapes. Now you must see and appreciate all the no colors--the dead leaves, the leached-dry weed stalks, the cobblestone-path walls, the stones underfoot and--oh, best of all--the sticks. Not the big, fallen tree trunks, the branches; no, those small, crumbly twigs underfoot--the little sticks.

Somehow, you never notice them properly until fall is here. The darker ones show up best on dusty, light-tan dirt. Each elbow and angle has its own calligraphic elegance. They lie there alone, unadorned, like cantankerous characters revealing their quirks and turns, the sudden bumps, their thickness and thinness.

Each one is unique, so interesting in itself that you want to make a bouquet of them. And you remember when your child did, in fact, present you with a twig bouquet on one October birthday. There is still on your front door, diminished a bit by every opening and closing, the decoration of collected sticks that Charlie, the twin next door, made before his family departed for the pastoral life on a northern Washington island.

Some twigs on this path have chunks of bark knocked off; others are black and charred-looking. And this bush--it's completely gray and dusty, as if powdered with volcanic ash. You shake it, but the color stays the same; it's just the color the bush becomes in autumn. Here are the reddish twigs; the young, green twigs, fallen before their time; the bare, smooth twigs, like polished bones. Hey, here's a bush with cigarette leaves. Those that have fallen to the ground are all tightly curled cylinders, waiting to be packed with tobacco and smoked. I pick one up and puff air through it. It has a strong taste just from the leaf itself. Say, it's oleander; I wonder if it would be as poisonous to smoke it as to eat it. Under the brown bush are broken oleander branches--fawn-colored and neatly ribbed, as if each one had been carefully scored for decorative effect.

Later on, in another two or three weeks, the rocks and stones along the path will come into their own, each crystalline face bearing its own interesting, sun-warmed character. But now, with the flowers gone and even the weeds waning, the twigs are the thing. Patterns of them occur--a hundred, a thousand different ones--more than could be appreciated in all of autumn's afternoons. Here's a stark, angular design--only five twigs. A few feet away, on the more trodden part of the path, broken twig fragments lie, hundreds of them in the space of a hand span, as if fallen from a sudden, dry cloudburst.

Time to go back home. The rather marvelous clouds overhead go unobserved as, even on the pavement, fallen twigs call for attention. Look at these three, dropped from the big camphor tree down the block. So gracefully, so artistically disposed are they on the sidewalk that next to them, front-lawn flowers look ridiculously artificial. On our brick front walk, twigs from the privet lie, prickly and black, emphasizing the green of the hedge.

I suppose that like grains of sand, like us, each twig is itself, never to be duplicated. But we walk on by, stepping on them as though they were ants, never seeing the twig world underfoot.

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