The example of the leaves
Posted on November 13th, 2012
“Things seldom end in one event.”—Richard Ford (by way of Joshua Henkin‘s The World Without You)
here is a particular kind of tree in my neighborhood that loses all of its leaves at once.
I’m probably making it sound like there is only one tree like this on the streets around my home but that isn’t what I mean. There are a number of this type of tree—an Aspen, maybe?—and on the very same day in the fall these trees, all of them, drop their golden leaves together. As if they’d synchronized their watches. As if they have turned the page on an internal calendar to which we have no access.
It takes a while to recognize the noise they make, all of those leaves. I first noticed it last year. Their collected steady, soft landings sounded like raindrops. The repetitiveness of it made me suspect that someone’s sprinklers had come on accidentally. Finally, I had to stop on a corner to watch and listen until I sorted it all out and when I did, when I was able to synchronize the motion I was seeing with the noise that I was hearing, I started to laugh.
All of those leaves falling in concert had a sound all of their own. And their mutual exit from the summer stage could be heard again on just about every block I walked down this morning.
It is rare to have the opportunity in our own lives to mark the definitive end of something. Events themselves can have a way of creating the illusion of forward motion, suggesting that the end has yet to be reached because, hey, if we were there, would things still be happening? Maybe you’ve spent weeks, months, years even wondering if this thing that you were doing—whatever (or, let’s be honest, whoever) it was—was finally over. All of that thought and energy and agonizing we expend judging just which stop is ours, the one we’re supposed to get off at, and then there are those leaves: hundreds and thousands of crunchy pieces imbued with grace and surety that you find yourself crunching through one morning.
We could learn a lot from those leaves.∗