“It’s time,” says the tree and proceeds to drop its leaves–no church bells needed to ring the congregation to prayer.
I sit with a cup of coffee, feeling comfortable this Sunday morning, and gaze out at the back yard where sun lights up east-facing branches and chimney tops beyond my sunroom windows. And I wonder why this steady rain of mulberry leaves is so suddenly knocking on the sunroom roof and drifting past the windows, like huge, green snowflakes.
The branches further out seem completely motionless—as in a still life painting. If not for the falling leaves, it could be a poster of late fall in New Mexico, snapped just after dawn.
But wait. I just glimpsed a bird darting across the upper left edge of the painting. There must be life beyond those windows–unless the graphics are really state-of-the-art or I’m day-dreaming at the wheel of time. In either case, a mystery remains, running beneath whatever masterful brush strokes are infusing the clusters of pine needles with morning light, animating the billions of atoms dancing in the rhythm of time, and waving to me across vaulted cathedrals of space.
The mystery is why the leaves are now setting sail—at this very moment—upon currents of cold air, drifting downward like an armada under the command of a single admiral, and docking in a thick blanket that covers the entire lawn and drapes across the garden furniture.
Is there a clock that this tree is listening to, just as I gather the chimes of the pendulum clock beside me? For a tree, would such a clock be internalized in its roots and branches, like the metabolism that has just brought my dogs out to where I am sitting, with hopeful looks on their faces?
Does it even make sense to think of this tree as an individual entity that can make consequential shifts in the flow of time? Does it harken to inner timings that prompt its sudden turn into winter? After weeks when monsoon rains have been sinking down beneath the brown lawn and pooling in underground aquifers, one Sunday morning do all the leaf stems crack like an old man’s skin and the leaves simply set sail?
Is that what is happening on this quiet morning?
I can feel my own agendas rising, like spring sap or newly discovered scrolls inscribing prescriptions for my morning—do yoga, make breakfast, feed the dogs–and I wonder if, like this tree, I am also rooted in cycles of beginnings and endings, of renewals and leave-takings.
As this tree takes leave of its summer foliage, does it hold the key to a secret wisdom: that nothing is ultimately ever lost? Spring will come again, as surely as this morning’s dawn has followed last night’s sunset.
Perhaps a tree is so closely linked with the entire planet and the entire grand waltz of our solar system—her deeply rooted gestures one with the tilting of Earth’s axis, the orbiting dance of Earth, Moon, and Sun, one with the circulation of water as it swims through a medley of light, air and shifting continents—that instead of floundering in the anxieties of a self who fears the future, regrets the past, and scrambles through the present, she is free to choreograph a ballet of time in which eternity bids adieu to its own reflection.
As I myself drift through the years, connected with other centuries than my own, through parents and children, through the wisdom and beauty that others who have come before me have left and which have helped me to recognize that there is something deeply astonishing about this gift of life, I am slowly learning that it is the mother nest of Earth that gives me the power of flight, and that beginnings and endings are always engaged in a dance of oneness.
Even now, a fog horn is sounding dockside, announcing that it is time to slip out on today’s voyage to far off lands. It’s not a leave-taking so much as an arrival to run up the gang plank, turn around, and wave out to the world. Whether it’s a cup of coffee with a friend, a trip to Peru, or taking another breath with appreciation, I too am like the leaves drifting through the morning light as, once again, I discover that I am still here, implausibly alive.