When I was younger, summer was my favorite season. It felt like freedom, the days were long and brightly lit by laughter and the sparkle of the ocean or pool water splashing. There was time enough for everything I wanted or needed to do from dawn to dusk. Maybe it’s because I’m older, but I prefer the gentleness of autumn now, and the permission it grants me to slow down and collect myself like a Sugar Maple gathering its sap; to take stock of what is important and to let go of that which might weigh me down, like a tree shedding its leaves.
Trees seem very wise to me. Deciduous trees shed their leaves to conserve resources when it’s too cold to grow, and to protect themselves from being blown over in the windier winter months. But before it drops a leaf, the tree recycles as much of it as possible to conserve nitrogen. Green chlorophyll is the first to be broken down and reabsorbed, which allows yellow carotenoids and red anthocyanin to show through. What do you need to gather close and what must be broken down and shed to reveal your colors?
As I write, my mother is back in the hospital for the third time in a month. She has been battling cancer(s) and its complications for several years. I want to bring her in close to me, to drink in her love, her laugh, her playfulness, even her brattiness (which somehow makes her more adorable). I know she is shedding her leaves. I want to gather up every single one and sprinkle them all over my life – it’s much better to gather the leaves than to bag them up and put them in a landfill where they do no good. I want to cover myself with them; absorb them like a garden being nourished with fortifying mulch.
I flew to California to help my twin sister care for mom last week…I’ll be there again soon. I pray that she gets strong enough to come and live with me as we had planned. I so want her to be carefree and content. For many years she clung to people and things that were painful to her, that sapped her spirit and her resources. She was so giving to everyone around her, but so selfish with herself. Now, she is allowing herself to let go of those things and embrace those that bring her joy. I am happy that she is freeing herself from those tangled branches now, but I wish she had done so sooner. It reminds me to take stock of what is most important in my life. I am asking myself, if I knew this was my last season, what changes would I make? What would I embrace and hold dear? It is a good reminder not to put it off until winter.
I know it is Mom’s autumn and I know that winter will follow, when the stillness and peace of snow will blanket my garden. Under that snow are the leaves that protect my flowers and they will grow again in spring with my mother’s nourishing love. For now, I’ll let the leaves fall and cherish each one.
And when the trees resign their foliage,
Loosing their leaves upon the cradling air
As liberally as if they ne’er had owned them,—
They show the richer for the nakedness
That weds them with the clarity of heav’n.
— John Jay Chapman
Trees in Autumn