Here in New England, the days have grown quite short now. And just the other day we had our first wet snow of the season. The nasturtiums that grew riotously over the slope behind the pergola now lie flat – victims of the hard frost a couple days ago. The marigolds too, once bushy and covered with flashy orange blossoms, are brown and wilted. Only the carcasses of tomato plants still stand erect. The stakes and cages that once kindly held the weight of their fruit are now superfluous and seem almost cruel.
Only the giant beech tree by the road seems to have missed God’s seasonal memo on the timeliness of letting go. She stubbornly grips her green leaves, even while her partner, the majestic oak has dropped his leaves at her feet. She studiously ignores his entreaties and holds fast to her own sense of things. But even for her, it won’t be long.
This fall, though I have continued to love the endless falling of the leaves, I have been thinking more about the finality of the activity. Of course it’s part of the cycle and I know these same trees will sprout new and amazing leaves in the spring. But for the leaves that fall, this leaf identity, this leaf-life, is nearly over. They won’t jump up in the spring and say ‘just kidding’ and find their way back to the branches from which they fell. They’re not migrating birds who miraculously find their way back to their birth place.
In the midst of the cycle of the seasons, of light and dark, of life and death – there is also this one-way movement. The job of the fallen leaves is not to rise up but to fall further apart – until there is nothing leaf-like that remains. I rake them onto tarps and drag them ceremoniously to the six-foot pile by the back fence to await their dissolution. Some day in the spring, several years from now, I will spread the humus of their remains back over the garden. Or perhaps someone else will be doing that work by then.
I don’t mean to be morbid, but this dying business is not merely poetic. It feels important this morning to find my way into both the closing of the season that only precedes next spring’s opening – as well as into that which is fully lost - the parts and pieces of life that only throw themselves forward into the future through completely dissolving. I know that I too, in the midst of the cycles of the days and the seasons of my life, am slowly being called toward this dissolution.