A Mosaic of Leaves

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And then in the falling comes a rising, 
as of the bass coming up for autumn’s last insects 
struggling amid the mosaic of leaves on the lake’s surface. 
We express it as the season of lacking, but what is this nakedness
— the unharvested corn frost-shriveled but still a little golden 
under the diffuse light of a foggy sky,
the pin oak’s newly stark web of barbs, the woodbine’s vines 
shriven of their scarlet and left askew in the air 
like the tangle of threads on the wall’s side 
of the castle tapestry—what is it but greater intimacy,
the world slackening its grip on the veils, letting them slump
to the floor in a heap of sodden colors, and saying,
this is me, this is my skeletal muscle, 
my latticework of bones, my barren winter skin, 
this is it and if you love me, know that this is what you love. 
~Laura Fargas “October Struck” from Animal of the Sixth Day

 

 

 

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Something about the emerging nakedness of autumn reassures that we can be loved even when stripped down to our bones. We do make quite a show of shedding our coverings, our bits and pieces fluttering down to rejoin the soil, but what is left is meager lattice.

But when the light is just right, we are golden, illuminated and illuminating, even if barely there.

 

 

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Tree Secrets

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Of winter’s lifeless world each tree
Now seems a perfect part;
Yet each one holds summer’s secret
Deep down within its heart.
~ Charles G. Stater

 

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Enduring the dark and quiet winter months, the trees appear to doze deep while standing stark naked against the sky, roused only by the whipping of the winds and when breaking under a heavy coat of ice.

It is uneasy sleep.

When I look close now, I can tell:
they conceal summer secrets under their skin, the sap flows thick and sluggish, there is a barely palpable pulse in those branches.

A heart pumps within, readying.

 

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A Soft-Dying Day

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Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, 
        Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, —
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, 

        And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue —

~John Keats, lines from “To Autumn”

 

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The trees are undressing, and fling in many places—
On the gray road, the roof, the window-sill—
Their radiant robes and ribbons and yellow laces;
A leaf each second so is flung at will,
Here, there, another and another, still and still.
~Thomas Hardy from “Last Week in October”

 

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We think we are mere witness to this,
this transformation happening before our eyes
as unforgiving wind strips leaves from trees
left bare and naked in their bones–

yet we too will be exposed for who we are
under the window dressing we spend so much to create,
too soon nothing is left to cover our flaws
and our bones alone will tell our story of redemption.

 

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A Faithless Tree

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Each year I mark one lone outstanding tree,
Clad in its robings of the summer past,
Dry, wan, and shivering in the wintry blast.
It will not pay the season’s rightful fee,—
It will not set its frost-burnt leafage free;
But like some palsied miser all aghast,
Who hoards his sordid treasure to the last,
It sighs, it moans, it sings in eldritch glee.
A foolish tree, to dote on summers gone;
A faithless tree, that never feels how spring
Creeps up the world to make a leafy dawn,
And recompense for all despoilment bring!
Oh, let me not, heyday and youth withdrawn,
With failing hands to their vain semblance cling!
~Edith Matilda Thomas “Winter Leafage”

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Decades ago, while I worked as a nurses’ aide in a nursing home, I cared for a little slip of a lady almost 100 years of age who would not go down the hall to breakfast without her make up on.  Wearing makeup was more important than putting on clothing to her, so our daily morning routine was prolonged considerably as she meticulously penciled over her invisible eyebrows, caked on powder on her forehead, nose and cheeks to cover the wrinkles, and tremulously applied a wavery thick border of red lipstick on her thin lips.  I tried to tell her how lovely she was without a mask on, how her weathered skin deserved to be seen and admired, how her eyes shone more brightly without the crumbling mascara on non-existent eyelashes.  She would have none of it.  She had never appeared in public without her makeup since her teenage years, and she was not about to start now.

She clung to the fading leaves of her youth, holding on with all her might to what she believed kept her beautiful, so we continued to preserve her “frost-burnt leafage”,  covering up her thin bones and her wrinkled face.

She died quietly in her sleep one night so my morning duty was to prepare her body for the coming mortician.  I washed her lovely face clean for the last time, admiring her without the cover, appreciating each wrinkle’s fold and crevice, knowing she now was made new in a leafy dawn I could only imagine.

The mortician would do what was needed to dress her up to her specifications.  But only I had seen the beauty underneath.

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Bones of the Landscape

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I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape — the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.
~Andrew Wyeth, artist

How endlessly beautiful is woodland in winter!  Today there is a thin mist; just enough to make a background of tender blue mystery three hundred yards away, and to show any defect in the grouping of the near trees.
~ Gertrude Jekyll, British horticulturalist

There is a stumbling reluctance transitioning from a month of advent expectancy to three months of winter dormancy.  Inevitably there is let-down: the watching and waiting is not over after all.  There is profound loneliness knowing the story continues, hidden from view.

We have been stripped naked as the bare trees right now; our bones, like the trees of the landscape, raising up broken branches and healed fractures of previous winter windstorms.  We no longer have anything to hide behind or among,  our defects are plain to see,  our whole story a mystery as yet untold but impossible to conceal.

Here I am, abundantly flawed with pocks and scars, yet renewed once again.  There are hints of new growth to come when the frost abates and the sap thaws.   I am  prepared to wait an eternity if necessary, for the rest of the story.

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