Cloud of Black Leaves

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I stood at the base of twin sycamores, watching the autumn breeze pluck the stiff leaves from their white, peeling limbs. They were tired & seemed grateful for the gentle movement. The wind, a friend, taking their coat & hat, ushering them through the door & inviting them to rest a while.

Suddenly I felt the wind reverse. My scarf & hair were sucked behind me to the west, like they were being pulled by an inhale from some terrible beast yawning in the woods beyond the trail. My heart rate quickened slightly in anticipation, knowing that with any inhale came an exhale.

And so it came, air rushing back in with an awesome force, different than before, whipping ready leaves from their branches & sending them twirling off in a spirited death dance. Russet, saffron,  titian, chartreuse—they pirouetted all around me, some brushing against me on their way to a final curtsy upon the wet earth.

With the next inhale from the woods, I looked up to every leaf on every tree quivering. But prematurely to the exhale, a sudden cloud of black leaves came pouring over the tree line. Before I had time to process what curious phenomenon I was witnessing, my finger pressed instinctively on the shutter button of my camera already in hand. I could not sacrifice even a moment to see where the camera was actually pointing. If I did, I would have surely missed seeing the scene through my own eyes, for as suddenly as the cloud came, it disappeared out of sight.

After I was sure it had passed completely, I simply stood in the thrill of what occurred. How delighted I was by the mighty, exhaling wind, how enchanted by the many dancing leaves, how wonderfully amused by the black cloud’s appearance.

With a small smile on my lips, I swiped open my photos to study what I had seen. Dense & massive as it was, the cloud came & went so fast over the trees that even the quick eye of my camera only captured the trailing tapers of it. But a couple times zooming in on the image revealed not a cloud of black leaves but the elegant silhouettes of small birds. So many! And what a hurry they were in—understandably so! Winter was fast approaching, & for any creature of the natural world, there was much to be done, perhaps many miles to travel.

The chill of the evening was weaving into the woodland breaths, & I decided it was time to head back. I slipped my camera into my leather backpack, adjusted my scarf, & set off down the trail.

I had not taken five steps before my body tingled with a change in pressure. I gasped in recognition of the dark shadow coming over my head & turned to the sky. Another extraordinary flock of birds, perhaps greater in number than the first, flooded the sky above me. This time I caught glimpses of individual flyers madly pumping their wings to stay together.

Do little birds always look so frantic when they fly?

After they were gone, I was left with the same sense of amazement as I experienced before. The child in me stood on tiptoes in the direction both flocks had come, hoping to see some stragglers still making their way. But the darkening sky was clear, save for a few yellow leaves exalted by the wind.

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Beets

BeetsThough only my third time at the task, I was utterly convinced, in the barely wakened gaze of day, that the ideal time to harvest beets was after a steady night of summer rain.

As I walked myself & a few crates to the back field, the clay-heavy soil grabbed at my olive muck boots like suction cups. I imagined there was a mischievous land octopus that burrowed tunnels across the farm, rising up to play tricks on those who dared work its land.

By the time I reached the highly trafficked alleys between the vegetable beds, the earth’s wet tug had caked a mud ring around each of my feet, which remained there for the good part of the day. Due to this added weight to my steps, I navigated a precise though less-than-graceful line between the butterhead & red leaf lettuce to the first section of beets. I set down my crates, began listening to a homesteading podcast through the headphone buds in my ears, & got to work.

Gently pushing aside the dew-covered leaves, I immediately spotted a beautifully large Detroit Red. I grasped the base of those lovely fuchsia stems, & the wet ground released the beet with ease. As I was instructed by the farm lead, I began removing imperfect leaves there in the field, plucking off any red-veined ears speckled with leafminer or browned with ground rot & letting them fall beside me. The sun would shrivel the discarded plant matter, & the soil would incorporate it into nourishment for the next crop. I sighed in satisfaction at this good work & pulled another beet.

Hours of peaceful harvesting passed, & I collected close to 200 beets of the Detroit Red, Golden, & Chioggia variety.  We loaded the harvest in the red farm pickup, & I hopped in along side it, bouncing & bobbing in the truck bed as we crossed the uneven field.

The humid heat of noontime arrived, & I was thankful to be under the shade cloth at the packing station. All of the beets needed to be washed & bunched for a CSA pickup that same day, so our team had to work especially fast & efficiently.

I volunteered to wash; I found great satisfaction in wiping away the mask of muck from a freshly plucked beet’s skin, revealing its vibrant, unparalleled stain. Each one I cleaned, I pondered the seeping & swelling of such colorful flesh under the ground, all from nothing more than a tiny seed & the magic of the earth.

We completed the CSA order with only minutes to spare. The crates of gloriously plump & bright beets waiting to be loaded up shined with the sun & the pride in our eyes. All I could continue to think was, “What good work. What good, hard, miraculous work.”

And tomorrow would bring the harvest of another uniquely beautiful fruit or vegetable, with its own method of growth & way of being processed, more opportunities for the farmer to learn from its flesh, to better tend to it so that it might better serve its purpose to the soil & to its good steward.

Water dribbled down my chin & glistening neck as I guzzled it with gratitude. “What good work. What good, hard, miraculous work.”

 

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The Marsh & Little Wood

Such a little wood can only drink so much rain. Its leaves of myriad greens droop from days of constant beating. Its dark, bulging roots lay drenched & gasping for air. The saturated top soil shifts & bubbles with the push of excess water flowing up from beneath it. So much water that a sizable pond has formed there, beginning somewhere in the woods & spreading out across the marsh, which slopes down from the tree line.

All around, the grass thrives in these swampy conditions. It has grown tall & vibrant green, needle heads poking out like patchy stubble across the surface of the water. Leaning in over the pond, the trees gaze into the shallow, shadow-speckled pool. When their reflections ripple with each drip from their heavy bows, they can imagine what it might look like to see their old bodies dancing under the soft grey sky.

Ducks & geese flying overhead make a stop to swim & snack on the spongey vegetation. One brave drake paddles all the way up to the edge of the woods, much closer than he might have dared if venturing across the marsh one clumsy step at a time. Now he floats effortlessly above it. Several of his friends, emboldened by his brave display, join him. They quack in a line back & forth, mocking the twisted darkness.

The scene—the whole of the marsh & little wood I look down upon from atop a neighboring hill—is full of movement & life. I want to throw myself into the middle of it, immerse myself in the grass-filtered water without care, my only thoughts those pertaining to the wondrous coming of spring.

 

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Anxiety

When I accidentally let it in, it sneaks in through a single breath—one seemingly ordinary breath in a normal rhythm—so I never see it coming.

In through the nose & out through the mouth, in through the nose &—oh God!—

Heaviness like the color black drops straight into my chest. The sudden weight shatters my equilibrium, sending my eyes & thoughts spinning into my head. All around the fizzing, dancing, pinprick lights, I see threatening shadows creep in from all sides, like a dark wave swelling over me.

Am I drowning? Am I falling? Is the top of my head floating away? No, no, it is only in your mind.

My body is frozen with a chill that starts at my ears, crawls down my neck, my back, my arms. I realize then that my mouth tastes like blood, but it is a phantom smell; I triggered a reel of “teeth falling out” dreams to play. The fear of losing control circulates in my brain. My heart jolts & then quickens; my eyes widen; my hands shake; my teeth clamp; my stomach twists itself in a knot like a fetal position; & I can no longer breathe.

How again do I breathe? In through the nose—no, I did that. Out through the mouth?

I let it all go. The panicked parts of me immediately start to balance out again. I know I should keep breathing, seek the balance, but I am scared to take another sip of air.

What if it is there waiting for me? I’m sure it was hovering just above me all along…

I clutch my chest & focus my eyes in front of me.

In through the nose

A normal taste, a normal rhythm. My heartbeat slows. A minute of even breaths passes. I sit up straighter in my chair.

Just as quickly as the anxiety came, it left, & the day resumes again.

I never see it coming.

 

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Prevailing Light

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Gray clouds slid down the windshield of the sky like a river of ash, aiming to shut out the sunrise. But how that golden wave pushed back, glowing in its righteous defiance! Its colors flushed richly with the strain of its struggle, orange burning at its cheeks.

Its light was so pure & good that it drew in the help of the gallant east wind. Quite unfortunately, the wind’s charitable gusts proved almost too enthusiastic, & the moment it heard the bitter, shivering mumbles of cold humans tightening their jackets against it, the invisible Titan mercifully settled.

But without the wind the brave little sunrise trembled & began to falter. And so the gentle moon, still watching nearby, just on the other side of the veil, came to aid the cause. It did what it could to pull back the stormy tide, but, as for all creatures of the night, the day is primarily for sleeping, & its assistance quickly yawned into absence.

Noble efforts as they were, the darkness continued to fall, & the golden glow dwindled. With both quivering hands pressed against the descending shroud, the dying morning looked down upon the earth with an apologetic flicker.

I stood in the window, staring into the rapidly fading warmth of yellow light until the heavy clouds pinched out the last line of color on the horizon. But I did not despair; instead I smiled gently at the hazy orb still rising behind its dreary oppressor. A dim but prevailing light illuminated the day.

 

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Rising Day

A subtle, rising glow of light breathes gently upon the foot of darkness; morning waits beneath the horizon, building slow anticipation for the wide & shivering faces already packing themselves into frosted vehicles to start the day.

The foaming orange wave swells & crashes against the receding purple veil, gradually washing away into the signature blue sky that blesses us in the daytime—but not before finishing its grand entrance, anything but routine, a new show every sunrise; it is the purpose & joy of the proud sun to perform for all creation, awing us with its brilliant displays of color & light & warmth, illuminating the stage & allowing the sky to be seen.

A thin break of red flashes just under the curtain, almost open, the final gesture of the prelude, which rolls into the next scene. The painted clouds freeze for a moment on the closing frame. The earth smiles—I capture a picture—& the colors slowly sink into the still blue.

Act Two.
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Second Breath

That evening, in the blue light of a shrouded winter twilight, I saw falling leaves suddenly begin spiraling upwards through the trees.

I rubbed my eyes, reassessed my mostly empty—second or third—glass of dry red wine, &, with the slight squint of my dreamy eyelids, made the walls of the glass disappear. I stared at it curiously, slowly licking my tingling bottom lip. The opaque liquid left behind seemed to sit like a pool of blood in my tender & innocent palm.

A strong gust of wind shook the warm cabin logs, which turned my amused state of attention back to the gravity-defying phenomenon bustling outside in the woodland air. As the leaves continued to mysteriously climb & dance, I could hear their brown, crinkled flesh whispering prayers of returning again to the impossible place of their youth. Together, like a fabled lament of the forest, they told the longing story of May, June, & July, swaying high up in the branches, wearing the color of vitality, drinking light & life so abundantly.

I watched them. Up & up they soared, desperately reaching, twirling & chattering like lost fairies of spring & summer.

But suddenly there was silence; the breathing sky inhaled & all that floated in the treetops began to fall once again. I scooted my body closer to the window, captivated by how magical the switch appeared. It seemed to me then that it was not gravity that had previously been bent, but time; it was as though time reversed & resumed with the push & pull of the mighty, reigning wind.

It is common for an individual to experience multiple moments in life when time seems to slow or stand still, but I am quite sure it takes a much rarer trick of perception to be convinced of time moving backward. It was indeed a first & thrilling sight for me in this instance—but I am also sure that wine is & was a significant factor in creating the proper conditions for such a time-reversing illusion to occur.

I took another hearty sip of my drink—this finished the glass—as my gaze followed the leaves rocking silently back down to the winter ground. Somehow I knew the wind had not really gone; it was only just recharging. As I waited for its return, my empty cup was, without request, refilled by the familiar hand of my beloved. I found him standing in front of me, in the soft orange light of the cabin, his face feeling flushed as he met mine for a gentle kiss.

I cannot recall the precise amount of time that passed after that moment, but, regardless, & as surely as I predicted, the tunnel of cold air did come again, roaring back through the shivering valley, scooping the paper leaves off the forest floor for another—perhaps the last—ritual attempt at regaining the lives they lost.

“Abandon your mourning to this second breath of life,” I whispered to them, &, like a toast to good health, clinked my full—third or fifth—glass against the window, “for we can never go back.”

 

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What Strange & Resilient Things

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Oh, all the strange & resilient things that don the old trees in the wet winter forest.

On the weathered faces of those sleeping giants, clever mushrooms appear like five o’clock shadow. Their roots, stretching out across the plush carpet of decay like callused & twisted toes, are graced with fuzzy green socks of thick moss, rich in color. And around every naked trunk, wrinkled & leathery like roughly aged necks, are fashioned snug scarves of ivy vines.

High up, the wizened branches may crack & creak, like ancient bones in cold discomfort, but down below, damp leaves, like blankets of freshly shed skin, silently compress into fresh fabrics for spring clothing.

 

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For Our Good

What words could fully incapsulate this human experience? I’m fairly certain there are none. For example, none that could describe such a mix of worry & disgust at my failings, yet simultaneously explain the undercurrent, the electric, jittering pulse of giddiness I feel about my hilarious carelessness & unjustified rebellion when I indulge in drink.

None of this matters! I… I should have left a long time ago! No—no, I’m sorry—
Indeed I think I meant it, & I’m glad I finally said it—
HA!
—you are so upset! I wish you could see how ridiculous you are being, dear.
You 
do know I don’t mean a word of it…

The verbal & written language is so peculiar. It’s all we have, really, to attempt to share this experience in the most explicit way. Yet even as we torture ourselves with trying to write it down “just so,” it always falls short. Even the wordless language of art or music, generally accepted to be universal… No, no medium can inject you with the exact same madness of emotion as I am experiencing at the moment—or any moment of one’s current fancy or otherwise

That’s why I’m certain there is a God. Nothing we create can truly translate this thing to one another. Yet I know deep within me I am wholly understood by something or someone. It’s all innate, don’t you think? We just feel it, we know it—when it really comes down to it—that we’re not as alone in our thoughts as we melodramatically think we are sometimes.

This visceral existence. This constant, fearful wonder yet infected with this unpredictable strain of emboldened pride, the force that compels us to keep fighting against the truth, the heavy, subconscious knowing we are but mere specs of dust.

What a paradox! I do love the mystery! Bless me—I am terrified & in awe! Bless me–I am hopelessly, fabulously intoxicated & full of joy at the moment, with the realization that I am pathetically human. Human & therefore perfectly, beautifully, a disastrous mess-of-a-thing.

And for God’s sake, do bless me! If you could just see me! I’m positively a-flutter. Admittedly, it is not just for the love of my God & the experience of this life that I am a rambling fool…

Can I tell you a secret? I believe I have been all but proposed to! Ah, but can I be sure? If he is under the same mist of bliss I am currently raptured by? Excellent question, my brain… Let’s think on it until we are rendered an anxious heap—the logical thing to do, undoubtedly, to be sure.

Oh, but if it is true… we should be engaged by the end of the year! And I shall not die young & unmarried as the wicked demons in my nightmares tell me!

What an effect this elixir has had on us this night, my love. But I trust our Father is working—working in all our ravenous sin & ridiculous impulses—all things together for our good.

I Dreamed I Had a Daughter

I dreamed I had a daughter.

She was dark-haired with big, searching eyes. She was small & quiet, quick & happy. She was the happiest when I was near her.

She loved to babble about the silliest yet the most intriguing things. She ceaselessly asked questions, danced goofy little dances, sang nonsense songs that meant the world to me.

I miss her. I hope I meet her one day. I hope she has a brother—oh! with my dearest’s sweet lips & strong hands… I hope I dream of him when I fall back to sleep.