The first leaf falls.
It’s later in the year than it usually is. A cold November.
It took most of October for the leaves to turn from vibrant greens to a host of autumnal shades. Amber. Burnt Sienna. Topaz. Flame. Before finally turning brown. A dull, mud colored, slightly gray, brown.
Leaves that had once been large and full. That had spread wide to catch the sun. To hold it. Drink it. Now curled in, shriveled into themselves, huddling from the bitter winter winds. The frost to come.
Husks. Dry, speckled husks. Once the home of small animal life. Of hungry caterpillars who spent there whole life cycle along the leaves. Egg. Worm. Chrysalis. Matured. Death. A lifetime lived alongside a single leaf.
How many leaves held how many lives?
It’s all over now. For another year at least. Soon, very soon, these skeleton wisps, the deceased children of trees tall and ancient, will drop.
One by one they will drop to the ground, knocked back by a brisk wind.
One by one they will tumble, push and pull, tugged by air, by breath. Seesawing their way through the sky. To the ground. Where they sit in the mud. The grass. The road. Buried in their brothers and sisters. Their cousins, near and far.
They will turn to black.
Then rot sets in.
But not just yet, not just yet.
First, the first must fall.
It is close to the break.
The point where it snaps severed from it’s parent folk who reaches, arms wide, as if trying to catch it and all the others. To hold them. To keep them so they may never leave.
It will not succeed.
The leaf, the single, faded leaf, knows all this.
It holds the whispers and life force of those who came before. Connected to the whole as it is. Just as those leaves who come next will know. Will always know. From the moment they first bud.
But does knowledge make you less afraid?
The wind picks up. A bitter, biting wind come from North. He is here. Here to perform as he always does. See that everything happens as it should. The turning of the season. The change that must come. It is inevitable. As is he.
The wind must always blow and coming blowing. An unstoppable force. Barreling. Climbing. Racing forth.
It would always come. It would have to. Nothing can be changed. It is as it must be.
The snap has come, the separation.
A lifetime of growth. The small green bud that burrowed from the branch. A green nodule that spawned something beautiful. That grew, and unfurled and stretched.
We drank in the sunshine.
And it all led to this. (As it always would).
The first leaf. A small, curled up, brown thing. Had once dressed in emeralds and then rubies before being stripped bare. Lifted up.
Flung high, it soared at first.
In this moment it flew and with that flight came an ecstasy.
Perhaps everything would be alright. Perhaps this was not the end. But the beginning of a new.
To fly on wings and kiss the sky that was looked upon so often.
The flight was all.
The flight was eternity bundled into a single, continuous, straining, yearning moment.
Grey storm clouds, stitched from denim, parted.
A low winter sun shone bright and hard.
Within that moment, the small brown leaf shone brilliantly again. Framed in sunlight, cast in jewels. Spring eternal.
A sweet sigh carried on the wind.
Then came the fall.
A sharp change in direction followed by a drop.
It is inevitable.
The journey downwards, the spiral, the plunge.
The vindication of gravity. Wind’s mirth.
A cold dip.
The velocity of the cold as the downward drift carts a helpless soul to its solitary conclusion.
There are no words for such a chilling, final experience. Except perhaps. Regret.
Ever closer now.
The ground is rushing up. A giant catching a gnat in its palm. Will it crush, or will it release?
A large mud pit is all that is there to greet you as you have reached your floor and are ready to depart. Not much comfort there, is there? In that dark, cold, wet place.
It is not a sigh that catches on the wind now, but a shout.
A single word.
The wind carries it away. Just as it carried the leaf, just a moment ago.
The leaf hits the ground, sinking as a stone sinks when thrown in the water.
A death sentence for the stone, but a simple game for a child.
(The leaf also has such games to look forward to. Among other things).
A gasp emits. The shock is strong. And cold. And lasting.
The impact of contact with the earth is a guttural punch. A wrench away from a world. Familiar. Welcoming. Love. And happiness.
Stranded in an alien world. A damp, life sapping world.
This is where hope comes to die.
Sprawled on the dark, dank earth, the leaf looks upwards. Facing the sky.
It is out of reach of the sun. Never to touch it’s light again. To be warmed and nourished by its protective radiance.
That is now a distant memory.
The big old tree. Tall and stoic, forever unmoved. Peers down at the little leaf. The little leaf it nurtured so long. Giving of itself. Of its energy. Its being. It’s spirit.
All was infused into the little leaf, breathing life into it. And all of its brothers and sisters.
The first to go. The first to be mourned.
The distance between them was a gap that could never be breached. A full, pregnant gap that would shrivel into dust. There will be no fruition.
You are the first. It was inevitable.
It was always inevitable.
A silent goodbye is exchanged. Whispered words of love and gratitude, sorrow and regret, carried away on the wind. Without one reaching the other.
The words are carried high. Spiraling upwards. Through the clouds and past the sun. On the breath of an old frost.