Yesterday it happened. The Great Whirling Dancing Drift of a million leaves. Outside my window, for about a month now, a large maple has made a graceful turning in tones from greens to yellows and golds, and in yesterday’s warm breeze, it presented a dazzling show of leaves descending in what seemed almost a choreographed performance.
This particular tree seemed to hold on longer, not following the earlier varicolored trees around it showing briefer glory, but held its dappled lemon-yellow-gold, bestowing its glow over the yard, the garden, mottling the deep shade it offered all summer and magnifying the slanting autumn sunlight coming through my window.
Its moment arrived.
The stage was set, the lighting just right, the sky a clear blue, and the breezes calibrated perfectly as the show began with rippling and waving and fluttering, then drifting into slow descent. I didn’t want this finale, and then I didn’t want it to stop, I myself was in golden glow, transfixed by the beauty. Every leaf seemed to do its separating with personal flair, highlighted for a moment as it took its leave , shivering, surrendering, wafting, waltzing, whirling, It was a world of dance: there was jazz, tango, ballet, hip-hop, jitterbug, the twist. There were the gymnasts, tumbling, summersaulting, forward and backward flips, spirals and nose-dives. Each wore its brightest raiment, putting on the show of their lives as they detached and flew, stage-lit from the angles of morning sun that kept every tone of gold and yellow in constant flickering.
Perhaps because I have an October birthday, I am most susceptible during autumn to a flood of feelings spanning the entire spectrum from exhilaration to desolation. I know. The year turns. The show must go on. At some point, I will concede its inevitability. The whole of creation is caught up in continued dying and rising, as Mary Oliver* puts it, the “rich mash” of one year’s vivacity begetting the vitality of what will be. Bare branches and bleaker days will follow. For now I stood as grateful recipient of this grand farewell, seeing the pattern of Paschal mystery here in nature’s expression: life gives way to death from which life sprouts again. Did I just hear an Alleluia?
So many other crises are roiling around us in the twenty-four hour newsfeed. Amidst the skyrocketing corona virus and the unending upset of the latest political machinations, the terrible destruction from fires in the west and hurricanes in the Gulf, the economic burdens of so many. But yesterday, a single tree enacted its autumn obligation in stunning grace and beauty. I’m grateful to have been there, a witness to the “gay great happening illimitably earth” (e.e.cummings). **
*Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness
** I thank you god for most this amazing