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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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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