Then, two other images popped into my mind. One was of an opened Russian Mother doll, with all the little mothers spilling out. Another was of my fiddle, in the experienced grasp of an instrument maker, who was looking it over.
My fiddle has a story. It's one of the Stradivarius copies that were turned out by the thousands in the 1800s. It belonged first to my great grandfather, who also played and carved mandolins. My father played it briefly in elementary school, and my aunt took it to college with her.
One day, someone made some kind of a nasty remark, and she turned around and whacked him in the head with the fiddle, still in its case. This was one of the old coffin-style cases which doesn't offer much cushioning. When she opened it again, the top of the fiddle was broken. I first laid eyes on it when I was about nine-- my grandparents had been keeping it in the attic for about 15 years by then.
About 5 years ago, the leader of the bluegrass band I was singing with turned to me and said, "Liz, we need a fiddle player. Why don't you play it-- here, you can borrow mine."
Well, we kind of did need a fiddle player, so I took it home-- and fell in love with it! Some months later, I told my dad about how much I enjoyed playing, and he offered me great-grandad's fiddle.
"Of course, I don't know if it could be fixed," he said, "But if you want it, it's yours."
I called our local instrument repair place, and they quoted me in the thousands. I talked to an independent repair person, who quoted me hundreds. Then our band leader hooked me up with a man named Harmon Morgan, who made instruments for the joy of making them, including details like filigree hearts sliced from cross-sectioned walnut shells. He looked my fiddle over.
"Nice log you've got in there for a sound post," he said. "And look at the bend in that bow-- well, some of them liked it that way. That was their thing-- a little bit different from everyone else. Yeah, I think I could fix this."
He took it home. I didn't ask the price.
"What if I don't like the sound of it," I wondered. "Or what if he can't fix it?"
Two weeks later, he brought it back to me, all the cracks repaired, soundpost fixed, a new tailpiece, strung, tuned and ready to go. I played it, and it had a lovely dark sound and a light feel that I loved immediately. I was tickled to death. When I finally managed to stop thanking him, I asked Harmon what I owed him.
"$45," he said. "It's good to see someone get so much enjoyment out of something I did."
Lots of people ask me about my fiddle (That's just the way fiddle players are. I think we're a lot like drag racers in the sense that we're always looking to see what the other guy is driving). I've played a lot of other fiddles, but I've never found one that felt so good in my hands or had the quality of sound that my own dinged up old fiddle has. My friend Jeff makes beautiful instruments-- banjos and violins, mostly. He was looking my fiddle over, as I told him this story.
"I've seen that happen a lot," he said. "You get the best sound after the top is broken and repaired. It changes the resonance, and sometimes that's a good thing."
Of course, that can be true of other things as well, like the Russian mother doll that breaks open to reveal her treasure.
Trees are brightening and breaking all around me this week, and the leaves blanket my yard, the woods and the pasture. I'll heap them on to my flower beds to keep the tender plants warm through the winter. I'll heap them for my children to run and jump into, laughing and screeching. I'll heap some into a bonfire before they blow away, just so that I can smell that good leaf smoke that tells me autumn is really here. I'll breathe it in as long as I can. And before the snow falls, I'll find a rock where I can sit with my cup of hot tea and inhale the smell of wet brown leaves and fog.
Then in the spring, I'll come to that same spot, to see ferns and ramps push through the new layer of rich earth that the leaves have left behind.