It’s full-on autumn, and I can see from the window of my home office that the leaves are wilting on the trees. As the sun pulls away, taking with it the nourishing heat they’ve known their whole lives, they mature; their shade darkens; they prepare for freefall.

In the spring and summer, all leaves look the same. They do not take on their individual colors until the end, when every leaf is different.

Looking at the treeline as the autumnal fire blooms, one could be forgiven for thinking that the leaf’s entire purpose is to be part of that magnificent tapestry that turns our canopy into a cozy, patchwork blanket so that we can look at it in wonder, smell the cold air tinged with woodsmoke and take comfort as the end of the cycle approaches.

We’re not quite there yet down here, but up in Boone, where two of my own offspring live, the fall colors are just about to surface.

Our oldest should graduate from Appalachian State University this year, with a lot of ground to cover before spring. He’s now fully realizing that the career he wants will require a master’s degree, and, I believe, quietly wondering if he’s got the stuff to make that happen for himself.

He does. He does. Whether or not he’ll tap into that reservoir of talent and strength remains to be seen; all I can do is watch.

After a couple pandemic years at App State, our middle child has found their tribe, is crafting an academic plan, is starting to see the hazy outlines of their future. Still mostly green, that one’s potential is starting to make itself known. Like the turning of the leaves, it happens slowly and then all at once. Blink, and you might miss it.

Our last leaf still lives at home, but already she’s starting to display her colors. She’s got prospects, and my unspoken fear is that after she leaves for a fancy college, she’ll get swept up in the maelstrom of career and ambition that pulls in high achievers like a tornado does to a double-wide.

She’ll be fine. Not so sure about us.

Right now, it’s hard not to think about what a tree looks like at the end of autumn when all of its leaves have fallen, black and skeletal against a white winter sky.

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