Like a Leaf

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Walk around feeling like a leaf. Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.
Naomi Shihab Nye

 

 

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We have had three weeks of delightfully temperate weather — days in the 70’s, nights cooling to the 50’s, gentle breezes which at times gust and shake the foliage and fruit from branches.

It feels a bit like autumn in July, with leaves loosening from tree branches, tumbling to the ground two months early. Our annual July family gathering is coming up soon, but without an older generation of birthdays to celebrate as in previous years: the last of our family elders passed on two months ago. The inevitable shifting and sifting of generations is keenly felt; we middle aged folk now bounce grandchildren on our laps rather than our own children.   The last fifteen years have changed much in our family tree.

I feel badly for the trees parting with their leaves too soon.  I am sad our family has parted with our elders before we’re ready.

I am no longer invulnerable, seemingly protected by a veneer of youth and vigor.   Located high in the canopy of branches, I may wave bravely in the breezes, dew glistening like sweat on my skin, feeling the sun on my back and the raindrops running off my leafy shoulders.   Yet my grip is loosening, slowly, surely.  My color is subtly fading.  My edges are starting to fray, and there may be a hole rent here or there.  Yes, I am feeling more and more leaf-like, knowing how far I could fall any time.

That knowledge makes all the difference.   I hang on ever more tightly while I can.

This is no time to waste.

 

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A Faint Tracing on the Surface of Mystery

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“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.”
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

 

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We are meant to be more than mere blemish,
more than a sullied spot or gaping hole on the surface, imperfect and inconvenient.
We are created as air and water and flesh and bones,
from the covering of skin to our deeper darkened cavities that fill and empty.
We are created out of Word and Silence.

We are created to weep and praise, praise and weep.

We are meant to be mystery, perfect in our imperfection.
Blemish made beautiful.

 

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A Harbinger of Something Harder

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How hard it is to take September
straight—not as a harbinger
of something harder.

Merely like suds in the air, cool scent
scrubbed clean of meaning—or innocent
of the cold thing coldly meant.

How hard the heart tugs at the end
of summer, and longs to haul it in
when it flies out of hand

at the prompting of the first mild breeze.
It leaves us by degrees
only, but for one who sees

summer as an absolute,
Pure State of Light and Heat, the height
to which one cannot raise a doubt,

as soon as one leaf’s off the tree
no day following can fall free
of the drift of melancholy.
~Mary Jo Salter “Absolute September”

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I admit I’ve been clinging to summer, though the calendar says it is fall, the darker mornings say it is fall, and the coolness of the air necessitates turning on the furnace first thing to take the chill off. These last days of September bring on a drift of melancholy for time wasted during summer’s  pure state of light and heat and here we are again, reminded of our mortality and the shortness of our days.

And so the harder times are coming, there can be no doubt.  Wistful about whether I can weather it,  I am tugged, heart first, into October, ready or not.

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To See the Field and the Grass Blade

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How often do we miss the fainter note
Or fail to see the more exquisite hue,
Blind to the tiny streamlet at our feet,
Eyes fixed upon some other, further view.
What chimes of harmonies escape our ears,
How many rainbows must elude our sight,
We see a field but do not see the grass,
Each blade a miracle of shade and light.
How then to keep the greater end in eye
And watch the sunlight on the distant peak,
And yet not tread on any leaf of love,
Nor miss a word the eager children speak?
Ah, what demand upon the narrow heart,
To seek the whole, yet not ignore the part.
~Philip Britts “Sonnet 1”

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О Greater Light, we praise Thee for the less;
The eastern light our spires touch at morning,
The light that slants upon our western doors at evening.
The twilight over stagnant pools at batflight,
Moon light and star light, owl and moth light,
Glow-worm glowlight on a grassblade.
О Light Invisible, we worship Thee!
~T.S. Eliot from “O Light Invisible”

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photo by Nate Gibson

We are given the eyes to see the part in the whole
or not
We are given the ears to hear the note within the chord
or not
We are given voice to rejoice alone or in a chorus
or not
We are given a rain-bowed promise to witness it all
or not.

So why ever not?

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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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Listening to Silence

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I saw old Autumn in the misty morn
stand shadowless like silence,
listening to silence, for no lonely bird would sing
Into his hollow ear from woods forlorn,
Nor lowly hedge nor solitary thorn;—
Shaking his languid locks all dewy bright
With tangled gossamer that fell by night,
Pearling his coronet of golden corn. 

But here the Autumn melancholy dwells,
And sighs her tearful spells
Amongst the sunless shadows of the plain.
Alone, alone,
Upon a mossy stone,
She sits and reckons up the dead and gone
With the last leaves for a love-rosary,
Whilst all the wither’d world looks drearily,
Like a dim picture of the drownèd past
In the hush’d mind’s mysterious far away,
Doubtful what ghostly thing will steal the last
Into that distance, gray upon the gray.
~Thomas Hood from “Autumn”

 

These cooling mornings are so silent~
no bird song
the dogs still asleep
no cows bellowing
only the sound of a horse
leaning heavy on a barn wall.

The gray on gray of this morning
interrupted by the painting of sky and leaf,
silence to the ear
is a symphony for the eye.

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Oneliness

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l (a

le
af
fa
ll

s)
one
l
iness…

~e.e. cummings

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So many feel they are the only one
to fall
until they land in a cushion of others
comforted.

Some dangle suspended
twisting and turning in the slightest breeze
not knowing when the fall will come.

I know I’m both~
one alone
and many together

held by a slender silken thread
until the moment comes
when I’m let go.

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