Like a Tree

Reluctant to step out of the house, I scanned the dark, dreary backyard. Thick, gray clouds hung low in the sky. Pine trees along the backside of my yard were a dull, unremarkable green. In the flowerbed along the driveway, the recent frost damage was all too evident. The hydrangeas, once covered with pink blossoms, now had brown, frost damaged leaves.

Pulling on a jacket and zipping it halfway up, I stepped out on the back deck. A cold wind whipped around the corner of the house and tried to get inside my coat. The sudden chill was an unwelcome surprise. I zipped the jacket all the way up to my neck. Picking up a lawn rake, I walked around the corner of the house. The only deciduous tree in the center of the yard glowed like a huge, organic light bulb against the background of the drab yard. Half of the maple’s orange-yellow leaves littered the ground, the other half still clung to the branches.

Using the rake to clear a small area on the leaf-smothered lawn, I found what I expected. Close to the grass were red leaves that were the first to fall. The store had called this tree a sunset maple when purchased. But I have been disappointed almost every year since Arnie planted it. The sunset red leaves seldom light up its branches in autumn.

The tree is like a cantankerous person with a mind of its own. The leaves stubbornly don’t usually change colors until all other trees in the area have not only changed colors, but also dropped their leaves.

This fall the maple tree leaves started changing color earlier than usual. Those first leaves on the top branches were a brilliant red. Their color brightened the yard. They fell to the ground first of course. But when the rest of the tree changed, all the remaining leaves could muster up was a more sedate yellow-orange color.

As I worked, I thought that although the leaf colors of the maple haven’t been what I expected, it was still a beautiful tree. I loved how the appearance of red buds on its branches was the first sign of spring each year. Slowly, as the weather warms, the small green leaves follow, covering the tree with a fine, green mist.

The maple’s robust green summer leaves are a favorite hiding place for birds and their nests. Wind chimes hung from the tree’s low branches sing softly to me on breezy July nights. Shade from the tree cools me comfortably as I work in the nearby flowerbed on hot summer afternoons.  

As I worked, I was stunned by the huge piles of leaves I was gathering. It hadn’t looked as if there were that many leaves when they were still on the tree. Even lying flat on the lawn, there didn’t seem to be that many leaves.

Later, when I was back inside the house, I confessed to my daughter, “Raking leaves reminds me of cleaning out a house after a relative has died.”

My daughter thought for a while before commenting, “That’s an unusual comparison.”

I chuckled, “I suppose it is. Chalk it up to my morbid meditations on the season. Fall is a time of death.”

Tammie questioned, “But what is it about leaves that made you think about cleaning out a dead relative’s house?”

 I pondered, “A person gathers so many belongings going through life. When a person dies, someone has to go through everything and decide what to do with their accumulations. We are like trees. When we die, we leave a variety of stuff behind.”

 Nodding, Tammie agreed, “I Remember how overwhelmed you said you felt seven years ago when you were sorting through everything that was left in your childhood home when your brothers moved to assisted living.”

“That’s exactly how I felt with all the leaves this afternoon.” I exclaimed. “There were so many. I didn’t know where to put them all.”

Laughing, Tammie pointed out, “It’s a good thing you were dealing with leaves today and not all of your family treasures, memorabilia, papers, clothing, furniture and odds and ends.”

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