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Piles of Autumn Leaves

September 13, 2017


A Child’s and a Guide Dog’s View of a Pile of Autumn Leaves


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



While we, indirectly or directly, witness the ravages of Mother Nature and send our prayers and best wishes to those so enormously impacted by Irma and Harvey, I, in contrast, am recalling the more delicate and artistic touches of Mother Nature.  The Midwest’s autumn splendor can reinvigorate a worried and weary soul.


In the ample yard of my family’s Hoosier home, the soft maple trees, planted by my maternal grandfather around 1914, turned into bejeweled autumn shades of ruby, gold, emerald, along with outstanding oranges and warm browns. then, the dazzling leaves  dried and fell to prompt a substantial amount of leaf-raking–leaf-raking of the peaceful, rhythmical swish-swish type, not the smelly and noisy type of leaf removal, so common today.  Raking the leaves into a huge pile, then running and jumping into the cushion of dry leaves was a delightful autumn pastime.  In my much younger days, I liked to fashion a gigantic bird’s nest from the pile of leaves.  After this nest-making routine, I–no doubt, pretending to be a bird–was content to sit in the middle of the nest for a while and observe Mother Nature’s September or October splendor.  Actually, in that nest of leaves, I must have felt one with Nature.  I wonder if children today still enjoy this season of raking leaves into a pile for exercise in fun and imagination.


Decades later, at the onset of every autumn of my life in Milwaukee, each of my four guide dogs had to come to terms with the fallen leaves.  At times, the crisp autumn oak leaves must have seemed like projectiles to each of my Leader Dogs as we walked through a strong wind.  In a soothing voice, I have chanted the mantra, “They are just paper leaves:  you are fine.”  Each fall, eventually, Keller, Heather, Zoe, and Willow made peace with the falling and flying leaves.


Last autumn (Willow’s first autumn with me), my current Leader Dog, Willow, was not happy when a pile of leaves gathered on the sidewalk, directly on our walking route.  My fourth guide dog once again chose to treat the pile of dry leaves as an obstacle.  “No, I am not taking you through that dangerous pile of leaves!  I take better care of you than leading you through all of that!” Willow was most assuredly trying to tell me.


“Willow, hup up.”  After a hesitant pace forward, Willow stopped again; I reached out with my right foot and heard a safe pile of leaves beneath my shoe.  “Good dog,” I praised and then commanded, “Willow, forward.”  My Black Labrador Retriever did not move because, of course, she was exercising her right of “intelligent disobedience” (a term learned by guide dog handlers at guide dog schools).


“Willow, Hup up,” I urged her again.  No movement.  “Those are just paper leaves.  It is okay,” I tenderly added.


Suddenly, I heard a voice from the Milwaukee School of Engineering parking lot:  “Wait!  I will move those leaves for you.”  The man, whose voice I have heard before, kindly wanted to rake the pile of leaves away from Willow and my path.


“You do not have to: my guide dog and I can go around the leaves.  My Leader Dog does not like to guide me through leaves,” I explained.


“No, this is a big pile.  Just give me a minute.  I will have the pile of leaves completely cleared from the sidewalk.”


The worker made the leaves fairly quietly disappear, and I thanked him.  I am sure that Willow was giving him her best Labby smile of satisfaction that, of course, once again, she was absolutely correct with her decision-making process.  I do appreciate how extremely cautious Willow has always been and continues to be with her guide work.  With a clear path ahead of us, I said, “Willow, forward.”  We were on our way into more autumn splendor.


I do not think I would ever convince Willow to me one with Nature by sitting in the middle of a pile of dry leaves.  My British Lab has better ideas, and I very happily and gratefully follow her lead.


With blessings for all who are dealing with the tremendously harder side of Mother Nature,

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


September 13, 2017, Wednesday



From → Uncategorized

  1. Such a brilliant story Alice. I’m chuckling with a smile at the thought of Lady Willow watching the city worker clearing the leaves. You are so fortunate to have a beautiful creature at your side, one that Mother Nature has surely given her seal of approval to. Best wishes through the rainbow of autumn color. Deon

    Sent from my September Windows 10 Creators machine

    • Deon–Willow would proudly wear on her harness a “seal of approval” from Mother Nature.

      Thanks for your comment–Alice and Willow

  2. mfanyo permalink

    Dear Alice,
    Willow is an amazing Leader Dog, and I am so thankful that she guides you wisely and safely every day! The autumn colors of the Midwest are unforgettable, even though I have not lived in that part of the country for many years. One of my fondest memories took place at our Grandparents’ farm where we would rake a huge pile of fallen leaves at the bottom of a very steep hill. What fun I had running as fast as I could down that hill and jumping into the big pile of leaves!` Thanks for your thoughts of early autumn.
    Love, Mary

    • Mary–Thanks for sharing your recollection of autumn on our grandparents’ farm in Klondyke, Indiana.

      Enjoy autumn in Colorado–Alice and Willow

  3. Sue McKendry permalink

    Alice–What a nice post combining past childhood memories of autumn leaves and present experiences with how your leader dogs viewed these obstacles. It made me think of my dear late Arabian mare who only refused commands when she felt they were unsafe. Usually I took her advice and the one time I didn’t we both ended up tumbling down a too steep embankment. Even then, she waited patiently for me to remount with what I took as a “I warned you look.” What would life be like without our beloved animals. –Sue

    • Sue–Thanks for adding your comment about your horse.  All of our animals have had and continue to have so much to teach us.

      Enjoy this autumn weekend–Alice and Willow

  4. Carole permalink

    Since our move from SW to NE Florida, Bebe and I are amused and sometimes startled when the crispy leaves make noise as they blow across the street. This is new experience for her, but brings memories of the season, which was always a favorite time of year for me with the warm shades of color. Thanks for the perspective from a guide dog’s view.

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