Which is your favorite fall leaf color? I ask Madeline as we drive. She looks at me in disbelief, and recovers enough to mumble that she doesn't know. I guess it's too soon.
I decide to press on, though, against that future time when her capacity for wonder escapes the iron grip of adolescent ennui. I think my favorite is the very pale orange, like that one, I say, pointing to a maple tree crowned with pale fire. Look at that!
Whatever, she says, wishing I had retired to Florida, or somewhere else, anywhere but here, where my potential for embarrassing behavior is so great. What happens to cool people, she thinks: her grandmother remembers when "Stairway to Heaven" first came out, and now she's wondering which leaf is the best color. This will never happen to me. I'll kill myself first.
Perhaps there are moments of wonder that I don't know about. Secret small intakes of breath at an unexpected world of white after a snowfall. Perhaps even the changing leaves move her when no one else is looking. I pray that it is so, and suspect it: she plants things. She does to the beach at night to look at stars with a friend. Sometimes she goes on walks with her mother.
And I know it will be so later. After the fever of life has died down a bit, years from now -- after her career has been what it has been, after her children are grown, after she has begun to notice that life is much shorter than it used to seem -- that is when the loveliness of the natural world will delight her above almost all other delights. You begin to see it when you realize that you will one day leave it. Its continuation comforts that thought and makes it more than bearable, solemnizing it into the sweet ache of a beauty you wouldn't miss for anything.
Live long enough to see where you are, dear little friend. Long enough to reclaim the wonder that embarrasses you now.