Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Brush Strokes

The view from the kitchen window is a canopy of fragile autumn light. The redbud closest to the house is a deep vibrant yellow. The leaves of the ash are yellow underneath but garnet on top. The red maple that towers over both is in transition from deepest green to fiery red. I looked out yesterday as the wind ripped away a hundred ash leaves and tossed them to the sky. I wanted to cry out at the wastefulness, to slow down the destruction, so that I might savor it at my leisure. It's as if some marvelous painter, after a frenzy of beautiful bravura brush strokes, threw down his brush and tore the canvas to shreds and let the wind carry it all away. Nature says, I've done my work for the season, I've adorned my trees in their finest, for my own glory, and now I am tired and will take my rest.

I have never comprehended the radiance that emanates from the dying leaves. It appears not to be reflected light but generated from within. Particularly on a cloudy day, each leaf shines brilliantly as if a tiny solar system cycled around it, irradiated by its golden glow. I do not want to let it pass without celebration, this fleeting moment between autumn and winter, seconds before the wind ravishes the leaves and tosses them carelessly to the sky. I want to hold onto the leaves, pressing them into my mind, painting them with thick chiaroscuro strokes of pure pigment. If I turn my head, if I look away in busiedness, I may miss it, this dying of a million suns.

Nothing is wasted by the loss of leaves, but rather they are speedily dispatched to be shared by the ecosystem of which they are an integral part. I know all about the leaves turning to sugar and falling to the ground to be used as compost to nourish the soil. I'm a gardener, after all, and comprehend the overall genius of the master plan. But nothing makes me more sentimental.

I do not willingly allow the past to be flung away in gusts of time. I yearn for past autumns when my children walked down the street carpeted with leaves, backpacks flung over a shoulder, books curled in an arm. The light is suspended in tiny fluttering suns above them, around them, and below. Yet in my memory they are always walking away from me, always going towards some thing, some where, some one else. It is a selfish longing, to hold onto leaves, children, the past. They go the way they are meant to by the master gardener. Only in trying to grasp the present do we lose it. Let them be swept up into the azure sky, trusting that they will flutter down gently to be used mightily in another time and place.