While on my morning walk, I noticed a maple leaf clinging to its branch. It had already lost its colorful coat and was now begrudgingly wearing its brown, scratchy sweater, with small tears and stains. I have often imagined what trees think, but until today I hadn’t given much thought to the musings of leaves. What follows is the story that flowed through me as I watched the leaf take its final bow.
A slightly younger, more colorful leaf was talking to a scared brown leaf. “Why don’t you let go? You know it’s time.”
“Not yet! Not yet! I’m not ready.”
“We’ve been talking about this since we were buds. We have a new job to do—to go back to the soil and make it even richer. Why aren’t you excited? There is nothing left for you here. The summer sun is long gone. I think you’re being ridiculous.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You have at least two weeks left to rustle in the breeze with the rest of the family.”
The colorful leaf was pensive. “Maybe. Or maybe there will be a rainstorm tomorrow and the force of the winds will blow me right off the branch.”
“Doesn’t that scare you? What if you land somewhere way beyond our home?”
“It scares me a little, but in the way I felt when I had to change out of my green slicker into my orange autumn coat. I’m more excited, I guess. The possibilities are endless. “
“Possibilities? What possibilities? You could be crunched under a human’s foot or sink to the bottom of the lake. As soon as you leave the safety of the tree, anything could happen.”
“Exactly. ANYTHING could happen. A small human could pick me up, bring me home, and treat me like a small treasure. Maybe I’ll get placed in a book. Maybe I’ll become a part of an art project, hanging on a wall for years to come.
“That’s not likely.”
“Or maybe I’ll become a part of a huge pile where dogs happily jump in and out.”
“Yeah or maybe you’ll become a part of a pile that gets set on fire. I’ve heard of that, you know.” Brown leaf clung a little tighter to his branch.
“Who cares? I’m talking about possibilities here! You don’t know. None of us know for sure. But wherever I end up, that’s where I’m meant to be, so why fight it?” The colorful leaf sensed that brown leaf was more frightened. “It’s going to be ok. You’re going to be ok. You’re just…you’re going through another transition. We all are.”
“Yes, but this is the final transition. At least in the other stages of my life, I knew what was coming. “
“Eh, you thought you knew what was coming. You could have been ravaged by insects or torn away in a summer storm. Your security was an illusion.”
“Ok, fine, but I was still a leaf. I’m upset that I will no longer be a leaf. I’m not ready to give that up.” Brown leaf suddenly felt immense sadness.
“What if you become something better? What if we all become something better? We’re giving our life force to help other trees and plants grow. True, we will no longer have the same form. But the essence of us is still there. We still have purpose. What if we look at this as an exciting new chapter?” The colorful leaf realized he was consoling himself as well as brown leaf.
“I’m trying to see it your way. I really am. I know I have to let go whether I want to or not. I just wish I wanted to.”
“Maybe you’ll find acceptance when the moment comes. The anticipation is always hard. But remember brown leaf, you lived a good life. Think of all the memories you’ve collected. Remember when we pushed out of our buds? Remember how the humans ‘ooh’d and aah’d’ over how bright green we were? They were so excited to see signs of spring.” Colorful leaf sensed that brown leaf had relaxed slightly and continued going down memory lane.
“Remember all the families we gave shade to over the summer? What about the time that caterpillar was about to take a bite out of you and all of a sudden, a bird swooped in, ate him, and saved the day? That was great! Then the cooler air came and we got to put on our gorgeous coats. Humans drove from all over to look at us. Remember brown leaf? Remember?”
Brown leaf was quiet. Just then, the faintest breeze floated through the tree. Without a word, brown leaf let go. Colorful leaf watched as his friend floated peacefully to the ground, landing safely between two big roots, exactly as brown leaf would have wished.
Carol. I love this. Trees speak to us if we will listen. I take a long walk with my dig in the woods everyday. I have how to be quiet and listen.
Thanks so much, Larry. I completely agree. I visit my tree friends almost every day, weather permitting. You’re right–we have to learn to quiet ourselves and listen. 🙂
Ah, I love it. The secret lives of trees (and leaves). I do believe they communicate to one another. A dear friend of mine used to look at a fall maple, resplendent in its colors, and conclude, “Just look at how proud that tree is of itself!”
“What if we all become something better?” Indeed. We don’t know, so why not ask?
A lovely piece. Just what I needed to shut out COVID and (alleged) “ballot fraud” for at least a few minutes.
Thanks so much, Jeff! I’ve been obsessed with trees since I was a little girl–naming them, talking with them, hugging them–you name it. When Covid hit, I found myself gravitating towards them even more. Funny, I just read “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben. It was wonderful and underscored everything I inherently knew. 🙂
I have that book on my shelf. It’s in the cue!
I wrote this piece a few years back. You’ll enjoy the TED talk I reference.
Just read your article, Jeff. Wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing the link.
Carol — Thought of you when I read this piece over the weekend. I hope you are able to see it via this link.
Thanks so much, Jeff. When I click on the link, it brings me to The New York Times, but says the page can’t be found. Darn! 🙂
Ugh! Such a good article! Sorry…. Maybe you have to be a subscriber.
Thanks so much, Simon. I was very nervous to submit this piece as it’s the first time I’ve submitted anything ficitional. I’m so glad it had a positive effect and evoked emotion. One of the things you and I bonded over was our love of nature and trees. Thank you again!
You are so welcome, Carol. I must admit, I find it challenging not to look up at trees and absorb the wonder of their myriad colors and forms. I have so many photos of trees, and their reflections in rivers. Thank YOU again.
Carol, you have put into words what we humans do tend to forget. The description is truly lovely. I even found it slightly emotional (unusual for a mere male!). I love tree and leaves; the fact they bless us with myriad colors throughout the seasons, and yes, some want to hang on the the branches; often two leaves left; perhaps one exchanging advice to the other. Carol,, so vivid so wonderful , so real. The leaves are saying ‘good bye’ here and there is a feeling that there is a purpose and their future relatives will bring happiness and wonder to we humans once again.
A gem, Carol. Thank you.