The autumn leaves drift by my window, landing gracefully on the shaggy lawn and providing another excuse not to trim the grass.

The leaves land without bias. They bury the good, the bad and the ugly. Leaves cover the late-blooming flowers and lingering vegetables; also an unsightly old tree stump and the bare patch of lawn where the mower leaked gas.

Fallen leaves are nature's great equalizer. Forget those garden gaffes you made last summer; all yards look alike in autumn, once the trees start to shed.

Some leaves fall more rapidly than others. The somber types drop quickly, like tiny organic elevators bound for the ground floor where they are retired as mulch.

The more adventurous leaves linger in midair, falling lazily like feathers, as if determined to first take a sightseeing tour of the yard. Some get sidetracked and land next door, but that's OK. Lawns swap leaves all the time.

Still other leaves begin their descent, only to be teased by a breeze that hoists them upward and back toward the tree. Whoa! Has nature erred? Have the leaves been given a reprieve? Will the tree take them back? Moot questions, all. The breeze dies and the leaves float to earth . . . where it is my job to rake, shred, bag and compost them.

But not yet. First I want to play with them. I want to run and jump and lie in the leaves. I want to wad them up in large leaf balls and hurl them at the dog, the cat and our daughter, Beth.

I want to stuff leaves in my shirt until I resemble an autumnal Santa. Then I will fill a sack with leaves, hoist it over my shoulder and walk around the yard shouting, "Hoe, Hoe, Hoe!" Except that I'll be carrying a rake.

This is unusual behavior for a middle-aged man, but I cannot help it. I love the smell and sound of fallen leaves as they crunch underfoot. I like diving into heaping piles of leaves, landing softly in nature's cushions. It is safer to do this in fall than in summer. Diving into leaves while they're still on the tree can be dangerous.

The autumn leaves drift by my window, and I am as excited as a child watching snow fall, only more so. I save the prettiest leaves by pressing them between the pages of a book. Try doing that with a snowflake.

A leaf blizzard hit our yard last week, stripping the ash, birch and magnolia trees and blanketing the lawn with their foliage. In some places, the leaves were piled in 3-inch drifts -- not enough to close schools, but plenty deep to play in.

At breakfast, I could barely restrain myself. I wanted to jump in the leaves immediately, but my wife discouraged this, as I was wearing a tie. The games, she said, would begin at dusk.

I would be ready. At work that day, I devised a leafy prank to frighten the whole family.

I would drive home, park down the street and sneak into the yard. Then I would lie on the ground and cover myself with leaves. Then, completely camouflaged, I would shout something bring everyone outdoors, a cry like: "Surprise! I bought a pizza!"

That would bring them running.

While everyone was standing around outside, scratching their heads and trying to find me, I would leap to my feet and scare them all silly.

Then everyone would laugh and marvel at my cleverness.

That was my plan.

It would have worked, too, if I hadn't lain in poison ivy, been chased by angry ground hornets and nearly wet on by the neighbor's dog.

By the time I'd covered myself with leaves, everyone knew I was home except our dog, Katydid, who was so excited that she bowled me over when I tried to rise from my leafy grave.

When I clamored to my feet, everyone was looking at me and holding their noses.

"Daddy, you stink!" said Beth.

I sure did. In all the hubbub, I'd landed in a doggie pile.

The rest of the night is a blur. I remember being hosed off in the back yard. Then I was forced into a car and sent out to buy pizza.

When I got back, it was too dark to play silly leaf games.

Life is better now. The dog has calmed down, the hornets are gone and the itching has stopped.

However, I'm getting excited again. The maples are starting to shed.

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