For a year and a half I’ve paused at this tree next to this creek bank in these Virginia woods, wondering when it was finally going to fall, what storm would prove to be too much for an ancient root system, which wind gust would push it over. I’ve also wondered about its history. How long has it been standing here, how many birds has it harbored in nests, how many generations of children have attempted to climb it? Has a rope every been tied to its branches so children could swing out over the water? How many winters has it been covered in snow? How many springs saw it leaf out into a cacophony of brilliant new green leaves?
The trees here grow very tall and very strong. They tower above me for as far as I can see, testimonies to strength and the ability to weather many storms and weather conditions. For decades on end they go from seed to sapling to mature trees, the strongest among them bending with the wind, firmly rooted in the soil beneath them.
Sometime in the few weeks since I last walked this trail that final wind gust came along or perhaps the day simply came when nothing was left to hold it up anymore. I like to think that it went down in a mighty gust of wind, with all the noise and fanfare it deserved on its final journey back into the ground it emerged from as a tiny sprout.
Although it now lies fallen, it still speaks loud and clear about all the years it stood, tall and resilient to nature’s forces.
I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.
~Henry David Thoreau
I noticed this tree on one of my first walks in Nebraska. It’s not all by itself in a large field or particularly spectacular in any way. Most of the time I’m sure people pass by without giving it a second glance but when I first crested this hill it caught my eye and now I regularly pause to look.
On that first evening I took this photograph.
This was today’s mood, a few months later.
Something tells me I’ll end up with many images of this scene while I’m living here.
Next time it snows enough to blanket the ground this is exactly where I’m headed.
I grew up in Ohio and my heart is rooted in four distinct seasons. As a result my inner clock and my sense of where I am in the world gets thrown off at this time of year in Louisiana.
I’m a fall person. I love everything about it. I was born in October and it’s the month I chose to get married in. Put me in jeans, knee socks and a sweatshirt and I’m a happy girl. I’m enamored with the color that autumn infuses into life. The first frost on the grass gives me great contentment. My heart races when I feel cold wind on my face.
I’m not supposed to return home from Thanksgiving in Cincinnati where the trees are bare and the color long gone to trees just starting to blaze with autumn color. It goes against everything I understand to decorate my house and hang outdoor Christmas lights while I’m wearing shorts and flip flops. The fact that hibiscus and marigolds are still blooming outside my laundry room door in December is disconcerting.
And so I was caught off guard a few weeks ago when I was walking the dogs and heard the sound of dancing leaves. It’s the wrong month for that. But the sound was distinct. A rush of wind picked up behind me and caught the leaves in it’s wake, lifting them up from the ground and engaging them in one last burst of movement and life before they settled back down to the earth.
I was immediately transported back to my teenage self in Ohio, to a time when I was still untouched by other places and climates, to a time before I was ever touched by adult concerns.
Here in the south I’ve had to adjust my sense of time and I’ve had to learn to look for fall beauty and pleasures with a different frame of reference. I’ve had to learn to look closer. Autumn doesn’t arrive here in a showy way, but rather softly and much more laid back. The color shows up over a longer period of time, in more subtle ways, and many of our trees stay green year round. I’ve had to learn to appreciate individual leaves rather than sweeping panoramas.
For now I can live with that. Life is teaching me lessons during this southern tour. It’s showing me that beauty can be smaller and it can catch me unaware. It’s whispering in my ear that flowers can bloom outside, even in winter. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.