This fall they are enormous. Leaves like dinner plates at every turn, gold and brown and yellow, all but eclipse the forest floor. Each seems larger than the last, and I scramble from one to the next in disbelief. How big can these monsters be? This sets me on a quest to find the largest, the king of maple leaves. That's no small challenge, since miles and miles of trails percolate through the redwoods in this corner of the universe.
I've got food and water, and all day to be nowhere but here. I head off light as laughter, free of cell phones, computers and concerns. My camera, sole remnant of the world that ended at the parking lot, is both companion and accomplice. The sun on its morning course paints impressionistic arcs onto the duff as it works to penetrate the mat of branches overhead. It's a canvas to get lost in, beyond time and memory. The camera and I step off the edge together, into the heart of it.
Hours, or maybe days, later I emerge, clutching my leafy treasure and heading wearily toward the parking lot. I'm thirsty, hot and spent. My feet berate my intemperance, as does my stomach. I've drunk all my water and eaten all my snacks ages ago. All I want is to get these boots off and sit down somewhere soft and comfy, but it's still a half-mile to the car.
"Did you took a picture of your fun leaf?" The voice is high and small and takes me by surprise. I'd been looking down at the trail and hadn't noticed the child and her mother coming toward me. The three massive gilded leaves I held in one hand, the camera in the other, and the magic they contained were all but forgotten. I looked up and met her open, milk-toothed smile.
"Yes," I told her. "Yes, I did."