Oak Leaf

It has been windy. Most of the leaves have now fallen from the trees and remnants of the yellow and red flames of autumn are turning brown in the hollow spaces alongside the roads and fields. Ditches and culverts have filled with their excess and the rainwater must find new paths through and around the piles of decaying vegetation. Taking a walk early one afternoon, I felt the shift in the seasons settle into my bones and suggest a pause to my busy mind. The fecundity and fullness of spring and summer have given way to the barren openness of late fall. This is the time for hibernating, resting, waiting and attending.

But there is so much to do. How can I possibly pause amidst the great need in the world, my longing for a safer, more gentle world?

The air was crisp and still. The only obvious motion, besides me, came from a half dozen juncos and a lone cardinal that darted from bush to tree and back again. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a lone oak leaf falling. I stopped to watch it spiraling slowly to the ground. The leaf had strength and integrity, but it fell with a gentle lightness. The only leaf in sight, it seemed so solitary and yet so much a part of both sky and earth.

Looking around for the host tree from which it had fallen, I saw that it had drifted quite a distance before beginning it’s downward dance. Yet there was no wind, not that I could sense anyway. A breeze more subtle than anything I could perceive had carried it aloft from the tree to the middle of the open field. Yet it had been carried, strong and sure to the place before me.

I must trust that I will be held by that which I cannot see.

Picking it up, I studied the sturdy oak leaf. It was a uniform shade of brown. Each lobe was unbroken, its edges sharp. Complete and intact, the leaf was so perfect that it could be an end to itself. Yet here it was so clearly a part in a larger cycle of life. Through the spring and summer, this leaf nourished and strengthened the tree. Now, in autumn, it has fallen to the ground where sun, rain and insects will turn it into nutrient rich soil, bedding for new roots during the next years growing cycle. Letting go of its place on the branch, it falls to the ground and finds new purpose creating space for new life.

I must release what is to allow for what is to come.

Laying the leaf back down on the field, it will become one of many when the wind picks up and gathers the stray leaves together in piles. No longer singular, each leaf becomes truly part of the chorus of living, dying and decaying material. When spring comes bursting forth, this bed of leaves will be host to the insects, seeds and roots of new life. But first, there will be snow.

I must rest now. There is a potential unfolding.

Winter’s rest is a gestation, a period of rapid development taking place out of sight and intent. As I embrace the longest nights and shortest days of the year, the darkness invites me to pay attention to a growth that is subtle, patient and attentive. I must hold my impatient, active and eager “doing” self to the side to make space for my allowing, accepting and “receiving” self.

It is time to stand in a clearing.

2 Replies to “Oak Leaf”

  1. I credibly beautiful reflection! Thank you for sharing this. Reminded me of the closing lines in Mary Oliver’s Blackwater Woods: “To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal, to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.” Deep sigh. Welcome Winter.

  2. A lovely post today, Lisa. I just read a poem by David Ignatow.
    One leaf left on a branch
    and not a sound of sadness
    or despair One leaf left
    on a branch and no unhappiness
    One leaf left all by itself
    in the air and it does not speak
    of loneliness or death.
    One leaf and it spends itself
    in swaying mildly in the breeze.

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