The Fall Leaves


However long I live in New York, I will always be part Florida girl.  I live and die by long, humid days.  I am convinced I may be half gator- my cold, thin blood needs significant basking in the sun.  I will give you an irrelevant answer to the question “How’s the weather outside?”  I think a sweatshirt is always a “just in case you need it” accessory when outdoors, and when at home, the sweatshirt is often substituted for a blanket.  Whatever that seasonal depression/affectation/disorder thing is, I have it.  When I first moved up north, I bought a grow light for my bedroom, the kind that plants need for photosynthesis.  It was screwed into the lamp on my nightstand.

That is to say, I generally anticipate the coming of winter with a sense of dread and a chill in my bones that will last for the better part of 5 months.  Autumn literally falls by the wayside- crisp days that I might otherwise enjoy become ill omens of the gray skies and slushy streets soon to come.

And the trees.  Fall leaves are beautiful, no doubt about it.  But those bare trees in winter usually make me so sad.  They look lonely, friendless, naked, and above all, cold.

This past week, I went to a particularly lovely morning yoga class, and afterward had some free time before my voice lesson.  I realized it had been a minute since I had visited Central Park, so I ducked in at 59th street for a little stroll.  I always forget how lucky we are to have such a sanctuary in the middle of the city.  Even the air changes as soon as you step inside.

The leaves are starting to change, half green, half orange, red, and brown.  And some of the trees  are starting to shed their coats, exposing bare limbs and, knobby elbows and knees without any shield or protection.  But for whatever reason, on this day, the trees were different.  Each leaf that had turned, though beautiful to my eye, crimson and fiery gold, crunched underfoot as a reminder that it was dead: dry, brittle.  As though each leaf was a tiny burden, shed singly or in clusters, until at least the tree was scrubbed clean again, returned, renewed.  Instead of breaking my heart, the empty branches lifted my spirits.  Suddenly the woods didn’t seem cold and empty; it seemed liberated.  The leaves were once beautiful, yes, and nourishing, but once they could no longer sustain life, it was part of the natural process to let them go. 

Maybe that’s the conceit of autumn- the plumage of the leaves allows you to forget that they are dead, and inherently, that their purpose has been served.  If a tree held on to all its brittle leaves with sentimentality, there would be no room for new buds come the spring, and surely, the entire tree would soon wither, absent any opportunity for growth.

I imagined I could, perhaps, become that light too.  That I could simply find the grace to let words, thoughts, and maybe even people flutter gently to the ground when it was their time, that this, too, was a natural process of letting go.  And that it would be my choice to hold on to the memory of some of those same words, thoughts, and most especially people as the blossoming flowers and rich, green foliage that they once were.  Each leaf itself, light as a feather.  But put enough leaves together, and you have an entire mountain. 

The air grew a little brisker and I quickened my pace as I neared the park exit and turned down Columbus Ave.  Behind me, I felt a barely perceptible current, and each step was a little lighter than the last.