The thick carpet of leaves, covering the grass and patio, beckon me. I am grateful that, this year at least, a warm sun and blue sky will be part of my morning labor. Rake in hand, I begin the process of gathering up the remnants of all the trees’ expressions of life this year. The leaves are dry and feather light, and my broad rake quickly pushes mountains of leaves into large piles whose invitation to jump and belly flop simply cannot be resisted. As I work under the crabapple trees, the easily cleared leaves reveal thousands of crabapples in various stages of decay, but mostly hiding under the tufts of grass and resisting the easy sweep of my rake. I grumble a bit as I struggle with these small, round and seemingly quite useless pieces of fruit. I tried to eat one once, but found it to be just tasteless mush.
I remember last year, when a late blast of snow and cold struck just as the blossoms were beginning to open. There had been no crabapples that fall, and the raking had been easier because of their absence. Slowly and with determined effort, I herd the crabapples into small mounding piles. The rake tears open some, my heel crushes others, and the air grows musty with the smell of fermentation. I drop the rake and just sit in the brown grass, drinking in this unexpected wine.
How much they add to my world in the spring when they are just a profusion of pink blossoms, appearing before the leaves have hardly begun to grow but in such abundance that the sky beyond is obscured. Their appearance heralds the real beginning of spring, although, mother like, I worry that a late snow or cold snap will kill them all. When that happens, they either never open at all or just die in place. Then there is never the profusion of color, and later no fruit either. An easier fall of leaf raking I suppose, but a poor trade indeed.
This year, Mother Nature was kind and generous with early warmth and moisture. The bees and insects responded with joy, promiscuously spreading the pollen to unending, sensuously beckoning blossoms. Then, their job done, they began to wither and loosen their hold on the branches. At first just a few, then with the onset of the spring winds, a blizzard of pink and white petals filled our lives: blowing into the garden, onto the patio, into all the nooks and crevices in the brick, sliding doors and patio furniture. No respecter of human limits, they drifted into the house itself, on the cat’s fur, in our hair, around the bedroom dresser and on the lacy fern in the family room.
Almost overnight, it was over, the bright pink was gone, and the barest beginning of leaves began their rapid growth. It is a bit of a shock to be able to see the sky again. The sun, unnoticed in the profusion of blossoms, has sneaked so far to the north that its rays can now penetrate through the still nearly bare limbs into our bedroom. In the early morning the bright light rouses us unready and resentful too soon from our slumber. Then, almost without our awareness of the change, the sun and sky disappear once more, now behind lush green foliage. The green leaves now gather the energy of the sun blocked from our view and, by their very act of growth and respiration, draw moisture and minerals from the barely defrosted earth. The blossoms remain, but now are the tiny, tiny green beads, barely a sixteenth of an inch across, hidden in the crevices between branch and leaf. Slowly, oh so slowly, the beads begin to swell while I go busily about the business of my life, growing and swelling after my own nature as the crabapples grow and swell after theirs.
As spring dance of life goes on, the green fruit takes size and substance from the water and soil that nurtures the tree. In the dog days of summer, the green changes to a dark purple and the limbs begin to bend and groan under the accumulating weight of transformed sun and sky. If I would look, I would still be able to see the remains of the sepals of the flowers at the base of the fruit, now black and rigid, and easily brushed off. But I am too busy with my own growing and swelling and so pass on quickly.
Just as I have gotten used to the many ninety degree days the thermometer is only reaching the 80’s and the light has totally failed at a time when, just recently it seems, I was still playing tennis and watching the sun set. I look again, and the small purple fruit is now large, full and round and assuming all shades of red, orange and yellow and the crabapple trees look a little like decorated Christmas trees, shouting their joy of life and fulfillment for yet one more year – what is it now, their fortieth? Fiftieth? My age? Can I shout my fulfillment with such joy and abandon?
Then the fall winds come, and the trees begin to release their fruit even as they released their flowers. Their purpose done, they are now ready to be released to the ground that the tree itself might have a chance to know new life with a new spring. Just a few drop at first, then a few more, then a profusion with every gust. They bang on my roof and walls and wake me from my sleep in the small hours of the morning.
The once green leaves have followed the lead of the fruit and changed their colors also to the reds and yellows, and the fruit is camouflaged again, even if only briefly, and joining it in a gradual descent to the earth. The sky begins to appear once more through the increasingly bare limbs, fruit and leaves began a gradual farewell to mother tree, and the sun resumes its morning peek into my bedroom.
Now only a few crabapples still cling to the limbs, frozen there by a frost that came too soon to allow the last stages of release, waiting to be taken by the marauding squirrels in their preparation for winter. The dried sepals from the springtime blossoms yet remain clinging to the base of some of the fruit,
Now, as I stare at the mound of fruit before me, I see that some of it is yet firm, retaining all the colors of summer, but most is in various stages of decay, returning to the purple of its youth. Many have been crushed underfoot, and the pasty yellow orange meat has already begun to merge with and enrich the soil, its mother and the womb of future trees, for another year.
I pick up some to throw into the bushes for the squirrels, then take up the rake once more and resume pushing the leaves, sunshine and my life into the plastic bags.
Roger, now retired and living near Munich, Germany, is receiving regular coaching in being fully present to life and love from Lilly, his black poodle.
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