Walking to School

When I latch the gate behind me, the houses along the street still sleep behind heavy-lidded shutters. Jet trails braid the sky with glowing garlands of cattail and dandelion, gold and white against a dawn of weedy clouds. The jet trails grow east, towards Frankfurt, but I walk west. School is just across the Wildgraben, a meadow valley jeweled with cloudy pools and veiled in lavender mist. When I descend into the mist, I wonder whether I will emerge on the other side in the same when from which I walked. There is a breath of Avalon on the dawn winds—or is it the scent of autumn apples?

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School: Ringing bells, chalk dust smears, tired textbooks, crumpled masterpieces, furtive gum chewers, raise your hand, brown bread sandwiches, library quiet, eyes bright with A’s, clocks five minutes slow, characterization, relative pronouns, ringing bells, see you tomorrow. I feel as if I have climbed back into a dream I had seven years ago. But to my students I am the dream, the exotic creature from California. I am the first of this species that they have ever seen. In eager English, they ask questions about my alien land.

At the last bell, the sidewalks flood with children on bikes and scooters, rolling home in small, unchaperoned packs. I take the long way back, picnicking beside a field of sunflowers. The blossoms have begun to droop, dozing as summer’s sun catnaps behind silk-thin clouds. Along the tram tracks I find a wild apple tree. The fruit is pale green as the full moon on a clear night. A few apples blush pink where the sun has stolen a kiss. The tree is generous today, dropping low fruits into my hungry hands. With a feast of apples, I celebrate the turning of the year. They taste like September: cool and mellow, sweet with dew.

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Down by the Rhein, a city of bikers, strollers, musicians, and picnickers unfolds over the paths and grassy banks. The placid river gels between her shores, unstirred by a current, basking in the afternoon sun. In these last drowsy hours of summer, a tender warmth stirs through the river valley. Summer breathes a soft apology and then blows south.

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