It is the most unmistakable sign of autumn.
More than changing leaves, shortened days or cooler nights, it’s the falling locust pods that tell me that summer is past and winter is fast approaching.
We have a huge honey locust in our yard. Every year, it summons me to clean up the mess it has made, dropping thousands of its dried seed pods onto the roof and across the lawn.
I dutifully respond, spending hours raking, bagging and filling a pickup for my contribution to the compost site.
The biggest question I face is whether the load is brush or yard waste.
Somehow, that task was different this year. I still got out the rake and ladder, but as I worked, I spent more time pondering the tree than cursing its produce.
Over the years, we have enjoyed the magic of its shade. An August day might have hit triple digits, but it was always singularly cool under the sprawling branches and feathery pinnate leaves.
One of the thick lower arms anchored a tire swing until shearing winds one day ended that fun.
Then it was a shelter for a trampoline where the kids propelled themselves into near-orbit trying to touch the lowest leaves.
The locust is so named because the sound of its pods shaking in the wind resembles the song of the cicada. To me, sitting in solitude, it is the peaceful pulse of soft maracas.
The realm of that tree remains our venue for picnics, grandchildren games and lingering visits.
Considering all that, the seasonal downpour of pods, as my Spanish-speaking friends would say, “vale la pena.” They are “worth the pain.”
As I rake, I am amazed at the sheer abundance of them. Each pod contains multiple seeds, but for one of those seeds to naturally sprout, it must first pass though the digestive tract of an animal.
It is an inspired design that works quite well. The honey locust has been around since the Pleistocene Epoch, fighting off mammoths and giant sloths with thorn clusters, and then feeding them once the pods matured and dropped.
Today, the clientele is smaller, with rabbits and squirrels feeding on the pods and deer getting their fill before heading to the flower beds for dessert.
We’ve lived here for nearly half a century and, before now, I never really saw that tree as a source of history and mystery, of awe and revelation.
I wonder what else I’ve missed.