In Praise of Glorious Autumn Leaves & “Housecat” (Poem for Alpine)

Autumn Pink Leaves in Japanese Garden 2008

Autumn Oak Leaves 2007

Every year, I am dazzled by the colors of the leaves as they turn and fall. Above are pink and green leaves in the Garden of Quiet Listening, a Japanese garden on the Carleton College campus, just a few blocks from my house.  Every year, I want to hang onto these colors, to bring them inside, to keep them in some way past their expiration date. Here are a few attempts:

Autumn Leaves Preserved 2003

Autumn Leaves Wall Hanging 2003

Autumn Leaves Raked with Julia 2003

Many years ago, when it was brought home to me that all mammals don’t perceive color in the same way that humans tend to, I tried to imagine the world from the point of view of my cat, Alpine. Below is her baby picture, taken the first day I met her.

Alpine as a Baby

Some of you might remember Alpine. She used to spend lots of time on window ledges (and couches, too).

Alpine on the Couch

Alpine Undignified

Alpine Undignified

Alpine has also inspired lines in several poems over the years, including the whole of this poem.


Alpine’s down is filling in
Between her summer fur and skin.
Crouched low on a window ledge,
She watches leaves desert the hedge.
She cannot see their orange and red;
Does Alpine mourn the autumn dead?
Not she; she yawns at the setting sun,
As much to say an evening’s done
As to convey an unconcern —
For whether seasons stay or turn.

Leslie Schultz (1982)

Alpine with Patience and Fortitude (New York Library Lions)

Alpine with Patience and Fortitude (New York Library Lions)

Here is Alpine the literary cat, overlooking Gulliver’s Travels, Vanity Fair, and (maybe?) Jane Eyre, colorful volumes held upright by scaled down copies of the famous New York Library Lions, Patience and Fortitude. Regarding color vision, it seems that the jury is still out on which colors cats can see. (If you are curious, here is an interesting link to an NBC News story.) All I know for certain is that I wouldn’t exchange my human color perception for anything, not even feline grace.

Autumn Leaves on Brick

Autumn Leaf with Polka Dots 2007

Have you seen any polka-dotted leaves this year?

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Autumn Leaves on Second Street 2007