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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The Beauty of the Bone

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The stripped and shapely
Maple grieves
The ghosts of her
Departed leaves.

The ground is hard
As hard as stone.
The year is old
The birds are flown.

And yet the world,
Nevertheless,
Displays a certain
Loveliness—

The beauty of
The bone. Tall God
Must see our souls

This way, and nod.

Give thanks: we do,
Each in his place
Around the table
during Grace.
~John Updike  “November” from A Child’s Calendar

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The maple’s leaves have let go
in the wind and rain
in a bid for freedom,
swirling slowly to new adventure,
ending in a soft landing.

There they lay in leafy graveyard
atop others seeking release
from branching bondage,
each shaped differently
in designed diversity.

Once distinctive foliage,
so green and grand,
oak, chestnut, walnut,
dogwood, birch, maple
assimilated in color and wilt.

In death
mirroring each other
just as leaf buds
appeared indistinguishable
a mere eight months ago.

A ghostly mosaic of July shade,
they dress the ground
as they once adorned branches,
lifting and dancing
in the breeze.

Distressed and done,
fallen and sodden,
each one lies alone
together,
a carpeted coda to a summer past.

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Tattered and Tumbling

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The rain and the wind, the wind and the rain —
They are with us like a disease:
They worry the heart,
they work the brain,
As they shoulder and clutch at the shrieking pane,
And savage the helpless trees.
What does it profit a man to know
These tattered and tumbling skies
A million stately stars will show,
And the ruining grace of the after-glow
And the rush of the wild sunrise?
~William Ernest Henley from “The Rain and the Wind”
 
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Yesterday a heavy rain
darkened a sodden gray dawn
when unbidden, a sudden gust
ripped loose remaining leaves
and sent them spinning,
swirling earthbound
in yellow clouds.

The battering of rain and wind
left no doubt
summer is done for good —
the past is past.

I hunker through the turbulence,
tattered and tumbling,
and await a clear night for
heaven to empty itself into
a fragile crystalline dawn.

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Diffuse Light of a Foggy Sky

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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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A Time to Sleep

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Season of ripening fruit and seeds, depart;
There is no harvest ripening in the heart.

Bring the frost that strikes the dahlias down
In one cruel night. The blackened buds, the brown
And wilted heads, the crippled stems, we crave –
All beauty withered, crumbling to the grave.
Wind, strip off the leaves, and harden, ground,
Till in your frozen crust no break is found.

Then only, when man’s inner world is one
With barren earth and branches bared to bone,
Then only can the heart begin to know
The seeds of hope asleep beneath the snow;
Then only can the chastened spirit tap
The hidden faith still pulsing in the sap.
~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

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Our farm has been changing dramatically over the past several weeks, each day moving a little closer to the reality of winter around the corner. Most of the fruit which is not residing in our freezer has fallen from the trees, and the walnut husks are hanging lonesome and bulbous as a windstorm pulled many leaves to the ground creating a multi-colored carpet everywhere I walk.
Readying for winter’s sleep is quite a glamorous affair for some trees on our farm–they are clothed in rich crimson and gold like the most alluring and ostentatious negligee. However the majority of tree leaves turn drab yellow or brown, as if donning a practical flannel nightgown or an oversized t-shirt without any pretense of grandeur. Even our Haflinger horses laze about, comfortable in their soft winter woolie coats and feathered slippers, happy with their gift of hay. I’m understand their contentment as I prefer fluffy flannel myself.This has not been a leisurely autumn for me, instead full of turbulence and fretfulness, too much work to do in too few hours,  rushing full force toward the hoped-for calm and quiet of winter. Like so many others, I’m ill at ease with this transition, as unready as a small child who resists the approach of bedtime, even when exhausted to the point of meltdown. It takes someone to quietly sit down with me to read a good bedtime story and to sing a soft hymn of lullaby. I keep leaping up, eyes propped open, pushing on, aware there are still too many “miles to go before I sleep”.

The time to sleep will come, sooner than I think. Just as a storm brings the leaves to the ground, so shall I be laid to rest, to be restored when the time is right.

Maybe I should think about wearing that bright red nightie.
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Cares Drop Away

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The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of autumn.
—John Muir

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The Pacific Northwest has been anticipating a “historic” windstorm for the past four days, comparable to the west coast “Columbus Day” storm of 1962.  I remember that storm vividly as an eight year old in Olympia, as the wind gusts were clocked at over 140 mph.  Large fir trees toppled over like toothpicks in the woods all around our house.  The root balls stood 15 feet tall, headstones over a mass of tree graves.  We lived without power for at least a week, losing all our stored food in our freezer and depending on canned goods, a camp stove and kerosene lights and hot dogs roasted over our fireplace.

When the predictions came for a similar strength storm last week, like millions of others in the region, I dutifully prepared by storing up water, getting a battery operated radio ready and counting up my canned goods.  We waited, en masse, for the monster to storm into our yards.

The lights flickered a few times, but the winds were meager in comparison to our usual storms.

Some people were disappointed, having geared up for “the big one.”

I’m among the relieved this morning,  having aged past the desire for an adventure without power, and today my cares have dropped away like the leaves that let go to settle silent for the winter.

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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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