Golden sunlight blankets the yard of my back-door neighbor, where an aspen tree has already begun sprinkling its burley-orange leaves across the grass. A whisper of breeze flutters its garment and a few more autumnal sequins tumble to the ground.

His maples stand resolute, tight grasping their emerald-green foliage until frost makes their courage blanch. Then a red-and-yellow cascade will begin and, in just a couple of weeks, their tawny limbs will be bare. If the aspen follows its usual slow slide into winter sleep, though, it will grudgingly yield its last brown tatters to December snow.

A pale blue sky stretches overhead. Soon roiling banks of charcoal will sweep in from Canada, smothering  October’s sun with sleet and rain. Soon. Too soon.

The restless winds of autumn heaped a pile of brown and yellow leaves behind our wicker patio furniture a couple of weeks ago. “Better take care of that,” my wife said, tossing her head toward the two-foot heap that Saturday morning. I grunted but made no commitment.

This Saturday morning was bright, balmy, and windy as well. As Judy walked past the dining room window, she exclaimed, “You took care of the leaves!”

The patio had been swept clean, which drew another noncommittal grunt from me. (A man’s most prudent response to many a wifely news dispatch.)

“…Or did you?” she asked.

“Pardon?”

“Did you rake the leaves…or did you let the wind take care of it?”

Credit where credit is due. “The wind took care of them all–and did so nicely, wouldn’t you say?”

Years ago, we lived on a rural hilltop near Goshen, Indiana, with our house facing west. A neighbor across the road had a handsome stand of oak trees that dropped their leaves a little at a time, month after month, from August through the following April. The prevailing wind dutifully piled them in our front yard, where I dutifully raked them up many times a season.

One year, I slipped on some wet leaves and fell on the edge of our concrete driveway, banging my left knee badly. That put an end to my Saturday leaf-raking ritual for the rest of the season. It also taught me the lesson of autumn’s wind.

When life gets blown awry, I instinctively spring into action to set things right. But sometimes–perhaps more often than I’ve realized–the capricious forces that throw my life into disarray will clear the debris if I wait long enough.

Wind, rain, and hail last night announced the arrival of autumn in central Indiana. A blustery west wind drives brown and yellow maple leaves past my window this afternoon. Clearly, this will be one of the abrupt season changes that Hoosiers  expect and prepare for.

Months ago, one neighbor stacked a rick of firewood against the chain-link fence we share. Now checked and gray, those logs are ready to heat his family room through the winter.

Barbeque grills and canvas chairs disappeared from nearby patios well before Labor Day, and another neighbor gives his concrete slab a final dust-up with his broom. It’s not too hard to imagine a blanket of snow covering it soon.

I wonder whether people in temperate climates such as ours eventually develop an instinct for preparation, like migratory birds. We seem to know when it’s time to stockpile, cover, and bring our summer gear inside, well before the weather itself changes.

My wife will tell you that, if such a primal instinct does exist, men like me have learned how to ignore it. But such exceptions need not disprove the theory. In fact, our existence may simply confirm that another species is evolving–homo procrastinus.

Crinkled and translucent, a thin veneer of ice covers our pond this morning. White frost blankets surrounding grass, undisturbed by any animal track–not even that of a muskrat who usually waddles to the neighboring creek at least once a night (for a reason I have not been able to discern), dragging a long wet tail in his train.

Everyone stays put until late autumn’s wan sunlight softens winter’s advancing edge. Except for me. My solitary foray is, I confess, most unnatural.