Notes on a maple tree

The trees in the backyard are glowing as they do in Ireland, England. That muted, sumptuous glow that makes it easy to believe the real world, the transfigured world, is just beneath our perception. The glow that says sorrow in life comes not from an absence of beauty, but from knowing beauty is everywhere but finding it just beyond the rippled fingertips of reach.

Books on the desk say the trees are ever brilliantly colored and cover only in the cloak of green for the bright season. Autumn does not change them, but only reveals.

I love this thought— the trees dripping their green, shedding a color; as if the red blood in our veins were to seep backward into our hearts and leave, instead of cold and hollow, the warmth and shine of gold. As if there were more to our bodies than the work they perform.

Maybe this is what I love about the trees, that in a season, the chugging, industrious cells of them retreat. The wind picks up and we call the season dormancy, cluck that the trees are on their way to dying. And when the snow falls, we admire their skeletons silhouetted in the glittered moonlight, and explain to our children that the wonder of trees is how close they can come to dying and yet survive. We wonder that they have the willpower to face their season of trial with a blaze of fire, like the burning ocher, smoldering scarlet and flashing gold are the tree’s defiance.

But rebellion? For all the peace to be found in autumn, a rebellion? If we are in any way a part of nature, how could we receive such comfort, a new sense of the center before the light leaves the sky, from a battle cry aloft in the branches and staining the ground? It may be that they’re shouting, but maybe the wisdom of the trees is that the shout is joy.

When winter comes, the trees rest. They have no work to perform for us—no shade to sustain, no lumber to give, no windy dance to present high on tip toes. In winter, trees are free of audience, left to only be— for themselves and their maker— their core. No pretty limbs to maintain, no new roots wandering for wider water, no barky armor to fortify against the pricking pests.

It’s what I want. This autumn. This life. To quite down. To rest. To stand against the wind, rooted. To lift my arms to heaven, core exposed, a strong beat surging, sap warm and running. To stand among the forest, my colors raised in peace.

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