The best Autumn days are very brisk, and we were glad that we had brought along jackets on that day. We were halfway through the Fall season and, as Halloween decorations began to adorn the homes in our neighborhood, some of the days were getting pretty cold. It was Saturday and neither of us were working. We were happy because spending a day together always reminded us of when we were newlyweds many years ago. We needed to buy a gift for the birthday of a longtime friend, and when the weather forecast called for a chilly but sunny Saturday we decided we should walk the mile to a nearby suburban shopping center to shop. We slept late that morning and when we walked outside we became excited about our plans. Many city streets are lined with trees and, amidst the witches’ brooms and the giant spiders, we saw that the leaves were changing from greens to oranges, purples and reds. We knew there were many more trees just outside our city.
We stopped for brunch at a small diner down the block and as we ate we watched the people hurrying past the diner’s large windows and wondered where they were all going. Leaving the diner we walked the few blocks to a larger street that served as the city limit and crossed when the traffic light prompted us. Once we were out of the city we chose a shortcut path through nature to get to the shopping mall. We knew that the path would bring us past long groves of trees. It was such a beautiful day we looked forward to the buildings falling away behind us and having only the lovely trees around us for just a little while. Soon even the houses disappeared behind small hills and the air became filled with the scents of trees and flowers all beginning to fall asleep until Spring. The weather was so clear that we felt we could see for miles. We walked beside groups of many trees as the sun passed overhead turning the day into a blustery afternoon, with invisible winds often spinning the fallen leaves into small cyclones. We continued walking away from the city and came to a small valley where the main path continued towards the mall but we could see that there was a smaller, less used path that branched away into the groups of trees. My wife suggested, because of the beautiful season and weather, that we take the smaller path to see more of the beautiful colors that nature was providing. I agreed, and when we arrived at the branch we took the smaller path into the groves.
Soon the trees were growing closer together as we kicked up leaves that strewn the seldom used path. Twigs and leaves snapped and crunched under our feet, and it was truly beautiful walking through the woods that were filled with every color imaginable as sunlight dappled through the branches. The afternoon grew late as we happily marched along, sharing memories and kisses. We have always loved walks and holding hands, but as we walked we sometimes slipped apart and I found myself remembering even earlier times of walks through parks with my mother and father. As the shadows of the trees grew longer the wind picked up and as the breezes swirled around it sometimes felt like my hands were being held once again by my parents who had left this earth many years ago. I felt the warmth of their presence and I was filled with a feeling that everything was going to be alright. Then it was my wife slipping her hand back into mine, and we walked along the path through the forest as the sun began to set. It was Halloween, the hallowed evening before All Saints Day. We were quiet, and I liked to believe that she had experienced some similar inexplicably profound moment when it looked like small lights began dancing beside us on the path. I said nothing, but as we continued on my wife turned and whispered, “Do you see the dancing pumpkins?”I was startled, but when I squinted and looked more closely into the deepening shadows at what was happening along the path it did look like the lights were from jack-o-lanterns, and they were flying!
We hastened our steps and realized that we had walked deep into a forest while assuming that the smaller path was running parallel to the larger path that we were familiar with. Had we been walking towards the mall, or had we gradually veered to one side? Were we close to the stores, or very far away? It was dark now and the only light to show us the path came from the moon and stars filtering through the falling leaves - that and the lights from the flying jack-o-lanterns! Had the pumpkins come any closer that night we would probably have broken into a full run barreling through the woods in the dark, but the pumpkins stayed back, hiding behind the trees far enough from the path. Were they trying to communicate? Did they have a message?
Then, up ahead, we both saw that the treeline was ending, and just beyond the trees were the lights of the shopping mall! We walked as fast as we could down the last 50 yards of the path and broke out into the open air beneath a star-filled sky with a big orange moon close to the horizon. My wife suggested that maybe the lights in the woods could have been from the harvest moon, but it was rising over the mall and nowhere near the forest. Then we understood - the lights we had seen had been from the parking lot of the shopping mall. The powerful lights that illuminate the lot were twinkling through the autumn orange and yellow leaves of the trees. We quickly agreed that the lights had been the source of the jack-o-lanterns, and then laughed as we approached the doors of the mall and saw children dressed in costumes running from store to store demanding, “Trick or treat!”.
We bought our birthday gift, and decided that we would walk home on the main road that night, where we saw even more trick-or-treaters bouncing from house to house laughing. Now, years later, we mention that adventure when the leaves begin to change and the days become shorter. We talk about the flying pumpkins and we make funny, scary noises. Then we become quiet as we remember the silent moments walking apart down that mystical path. I’ve never mentioned why those moments were so quiet, and neither has she.