"Ilove the smell of dead leaves," she says, not for the first time, as we trundle through Lithia — the park, not the auto dealer — on a fine example of a late autumn day that clamps tight on the air like a poker player riding a stone-cold bluff.

"Ilove the smell of dead leaves," she says, not for the first time, as we trundle through Lithia — the park, not the auto dealer — on a fine example of a late autumn day that clamps tight on the air like a poker player riding a stone-cold bluff.

I start formulating a response about the chemical process involved that allows decomposition to trigger a chemical reaction and release organic components into the stilled breeze ... but where's the romance in that?

So, I settle for a grunt of shared appreciation because 1) that's what this moment calls for and 2) my understanding of what actually causes leaves to emit such a musty but oddly pleasing odor gets lost somewhere between photo and synthesis.

There are times toward the end of the year when we need to take account of what remains after natural progression has removed the leaves and the green and the warmth of the sun. Nature takes a nap, but not before nudging those nagging questions through its mind's eye.

Sure, call it an inversion all you want, but the chill that moves at a snail's pace through the valley allows the senses to focus on what lingers from what has been — whether it's the fallen vestiges of early autumn color, or the morning fog that pulls itself like a blanket to the neck of a treeline as pale sunlight bathes across its face.

Seeing that morning jacket always brings to mind Tom Hanks (sorry, my thought process just works like that), who upon awarding an Oscar in 1992 to a special effects technician for the creation of "a safe, dense, low-hanging, dry fog," praised the work as being "a major step forward in the use of a safe, dense, low-hanging, dry fog."

Some things are what they are.

Natural wonders always outshine those of planned prefabrication. Hollywood might be able to glue summer leaves onto barren trees in the Ashland Plaza, but when they come down, they won't create any lingering sense memory.

Even the million — give or take a dozen or so — lights that illuminate downtown Ashland best draw attention not to themselves, but to the charm of a parade and the gathering of souls at ground level — the community of shared time, breaking away from the necessities of expected behavior (the "sale"-laden shopping, the calorie-laden food, the event-laden treadmill) to breathe in cool air and exhale another year.

Can an organic sense of place be created in a test tube? It's what makes the construction of Pear Blossom Park such as fascinating experiment. A winter wonderland appears out of a construction site in the shadow of Lithia — the corporate headquarters, not the park — and brings people together in common purpose and with one common thought.

Which is ... yes, the city really did spend $30,000 on the remnants of a bus station — but apparently doesn't have the change left in petty cash to fix the sidewalks near a building that has been there nearly a quarter-century longer.

In 1836, the defenders of the Alamo were overrun by the size of Santa Anna's army, but the fort remains as a symbol of heroism in the face of unbeatable odds. Seventy years later, George Santayana wrote in "Life of Reason" that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Well, that's how a few sources remember the quote. Other, the saying goes, remember differently. It has been misused, abused and confused through history, thereby becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy of circulatory error.

Santa Anna and Santayana aside, it was Santa Claus who brought folks out to The Commons grounds for the Winter Lights Festival — as those in a celebratory mood gathered in Pear Blossom Park to welcome a new and shiny holiday season in their new and shiny gathering place.

In our own way, we become kin to the turtles of the upper duck pond at Lithia — the park, thus far; who knows what might eventually emerge downtown — sun worshippers who commune in the bright lights then disappear when the sky turns cold, the carols have been sung and the dead leaves have lost their allure.

"Where do the turtles go?" she asked, not for the first time, and I start formulating a response based on an exhaustive five-minute search of the Internet about how the water is warmer at the bottom of the pond than near the ice, and the need turtles have to hibernate in the muddy floor "¦ but where's the romance in that?

In these matters, as in most, she's always been the wiser. She has faith that the turtles will return in the spring, just as those behind the creation of the parks at The Commons have faith that the good people of Whoville will return to enjoy the community gathering place created for them.

It's best not to over-think these times, although here amongst the smell of spilled ink and dead trees, it's what comes with our natural order of things.

Here, it is not the leaves, nor the turtles, that have moved on, but the columnists. Within a month's time, the Mail Tribune has said farewell to Chris Conrad (whose last NightCrawler piece appeared in the Nov. 8 edition of Tempo), Paul Fattig (who went Off the Beaten Path for the final time on Nov. 24) and now Sanne Specht (who closes the cover of her Southern Oregon Journal today on Page 2A).

Off to slay dragons in other fields, their voices will linger in the memories of their readers and co-workers in thea safe, dense, low-hanging, dry fog of approaching winter.

In tribute, I should be drinking a PBR, accepting the fate of the Cubs, and poking holes in the status quo as I watch life flow past along the Rogue River, when I should actually be doing something useful to help my long-suffering and often-correct wife ... instead of stringing together a DNA helix of well-fermented puns.

But where is the romance in that? It is three days after Thanksgiving "¦ and I am the leftover turkey.

Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin can be reached at rgalvin@mailtribune.com.