To me, summer isn’t in trouble when the kitchen calendar is flipped from August to September. Not when the high school football team begins to dominate conversations, either. Not even when the local swimming holes empty and the classrooms start filling up. Even then summer hangs on.
Fall approaches only when the leaves on our backyard maple begin to yawn inward and drop to the ground. One would perhaps think that owning the focal point of one season’s exit and another’s entrance would be a big deal, but it’s something our realtor failed to mention. Not that I’m complaining. My maple wouldn’t want the attention.
As I write this I am looking out an upstairs window. Beautiful day, eighty degrees and sunshiny. But I’m not fooled. My backyard is slowly pulling a blanket of yellowed leaves over itself to settle in for the colder months. My maple is becoming bare. That’s how I know that both the end and the beginning are near. My beautiful day is just a little more than a mirage. It’s both here and not really.
Soon the leaves on the other trees in the neighborhood will take their cue and follow suit. Green will turn to yellow and then to red and orange in a sudden and silent conflagration. It will be a shout of goodbye mixed with a little leaving of something behind.
Sometime in the next month or so a migration to our valley will ensue. People for hundreds of miles will make the journey to the mountains in my front yard just to get a look at our leaves.
This seems curious on the surface. After all, I’m sure those good folks have trees wherever they live, too. Travelling hundreds of miles to look at other trees can seem to be a bit ridiculous. But I understand. Because I am, above all else, a leaf guy. I would even go so far as to say that a single leaf embodies everything to which a human should aspire.
That statement might on the surface seem a little demeaning. If we’re going to compare humanity to the positive attributes of a natural object, it should be something a little more awe-inspiring. Like an eagle, maybe. Or the mountains. Or maybe some bright, shining star.
But I don’t think so. No, I don’t think you can get much better than a leaf.
The leaf is a wonderful creation. It’s value to trees and plants is vital because of photosynthesis, the natural process of turning carbon dioxide into organic compounds—something from nothing. The result of this miraculous poof!ing is oxygen. Leaves convert almost a hundred billion tons of carbon dioxide into fresh air every year, keeping us all alive. Next time you take a deep breath, thank the nearest tree.
And that’s not all.
For thousands of years humans have used leaves for everything from medicine to food. They provide shelter from the elements and shade from the sun. Adam and Eve used them to cover their nakedness. Christ used them in parables. And let’s not forget the entertainment factor. Leaves are fun to play with. Just ask my kids.
The life of a leaf is a life of service. It gives, whether it be life or shelter, and asks for nothing in return. And when the end comes, the leaf doesn’t fret. It doesn’t fight the inevitable, doesn’t shrink or shrivel or succumb.
No, it uses its last days to brighten and reveal the beauty that was always hidden within it, thereby inspiring us to notice the beauty that is apparent around us. Even in death, the leaf gives.
So you can take your oceans and mountains. You can have your eagles and stars. I’ll stay a leaf guy. I don’t think I could ask anything more of myself.