On this second weekend in October, the Kettle Moraine seemed to Obella Frazno more rare than usual. The trees still held most of the leaves. Obella knew of no other natural displays when death soon follows, after so much splendid coloring. Each moment the colors resonated and changed. There was no predicting the changing spectrum. It was as if the sun and the moon, the heat and the cold outdid each others performances, connecting each leaf to all others, in circuits which swirled and affected each grain of chlorophyll immediately, affected molecules of every living and dying bundle touched by the wind. The orange reds were overridden by the red caramels then were lost in the parade of rusted iron, green lemons, lemon meringues soon pushed aside by emerald aqua. Whole trees were set on fire with scarlet or smoldered in subdued raspberry soon reenergized in strawberry only to be modulated in winter sunset. Obella quaffed this light and dark of disappearing equinox baptized by the pointed teeth of overnight frost. She never knew quite where she stood as the mighty sun shuffled the deck and threw its dice as it hurtled south from the equator on its journey to the Capricorn.
Her 24 year old niece Mahsa, visiting from a kibbutz in Israel laughed. “We never see this in the Negev. But each autumn you do. Yet you act like you never do, though you always do.” They were riding in Obella’s ’91 Buick. The camping gear, some boxes of clothing and the ice chest piled on the back seat, almost covered the rear window. The cell phone rang. Mahsad answered. “It’s Roger. Oh. Oh. Roger doesn’t want to speak with you.”
Obella glanced from the road at Mahsa. “My own husband. He hardly ever calls me on the cell phone. What’s he want? Tell him we’re almost to the Kettle and the leaves are gorgeous.” Mahsa’s smile widened as she listened carefully. She looked intently at Obella. After several moments she laughingly replied, “Roger. I think it would be better if it came from you. No? You want me to handle it. OK. OK.” She turned off the instrument and faced her aunt. “You’re going to like this. You forgot something, Aunt Obella. Big time like they say in this country.” Her smile was filled with laughter.
Obella looked at her back and forth from the road several times. “OK. OK. What? Is this what’s taught on the kibbutz? How to tantalize. How to dangle secrets?” Mahsa laughed. She put her hand over Obel’s on the steering wheel. “You must have been in a rush this morning. Roger said there’s going to be a frost up her for sure tonight. I think we better stop in town and do some shopping before setting up the tents.”
Obella was impatient. “Why? Don’t tell me you didn’t bring enough clothes and food. I told you what to bring.” Mahsa shook her head, her eyes joining in the fun and laughter of her lips. “You walked right past all the boxes of clothing and food sitting right by the rear door. You even left your sleeping bag. You sure must have been in a rush.” Obella slapped her head. She was sure the tent and tarp were in the trunk along with the stove. But the heavy underwear, stockings, jerseys definitely were in the boxes she left on the kitchen floor along with the avocados, freshly baked bread, onions, spices, sesame sticks, decaf, peanut butter freeze dried food and all the other paraphernalia which makes dealing with cold weather reasonably comfortable.
Obella frowned. “I’d like to blame my age. I’m not so sure it’s the answer. Some people get Alzheimer’s. But I’ve had Jungheimer’s all my life. Overlooking the obvious is a pattern though it could be infuriating. Sometimes downright dangerous. Many men are like that . Have you noticed? Still if you know how to compensate much of the time--- Still I wonder why I did forget so obviously this morning.”
Mahsa nodded her head as she acknowledged the meaning. “I have some idea.” Obella glanced at her quickly. “Really. Tell me then.” Mahsa carefully chose her words. “Mother told me about you. On and off. This is the first time you and I really have been off by ourselves. Mother is not sure what your stand on Israel is. She told me to be honest with you. As much as I could. To stay friendly no matter what your opinion is. Do you think Israelis are contemptible?”
Obella thought about her sister Ebra. On the kibbutz twelve years. Mahsa had been a little girl when she left the States. Ebra was a strong Zionist. Had always been. In her songs and dance and the way she tackled Hebrew at UIC for four years though she had hated Hebrew school when a pre teen. She had raised two children on the kibbutz. Though the kibbutz was now in economic straits because the community could no longer sell its out of season crop of fruit so easily because of the competition from the European Union, Ebra and her husband were still determined to remain. They now were going to school to learn new professions. “That’s like me asking you if all the people from this country are contemptible. Israel has some leaders in whose face I would like to spit, though I’d probably be mowed down by their itchy finger guards in a flash. How’s that make you feel?” Mahsad shrugged. “Maybe you’re right. Or wrong. The last eight months I’ve been above 12 thousand feet in the Andes, trekking. Sometimes over 15 thousand. I could keep up. There’s not much air there. Just thought about surviving. It was a little scary but in some ways illuminating. Like stepping on to the moon. People at sea level seem so insignificant. Leadership especially.”
Obella smiled. “It’s the same way being amongst these autumn leaves. These kames, glacial tills, eskars, drumlins. Seasons and geological ages have a habit of diluting deformed human leadership. Shrinks the importance of power hungry despots.”
Hesitatingly Mahsad asked, “Mother said you were the child in the family favored by my grandfather. But she said before he died you used to argue with him, many times.” Obella nodded. “As a child, I adored him. He took me everywhere. But as an adult I almost hated him. He was so intolerant of everything non Jewish. He wanted me to remain a child. I insisted on growing up. When I see the leaders in your country, I often see him.” Quizzically, Mahsa knitted her young brows. “Maybe they see all of us as children like those who lead you in this country.”