Cloud of Black Leaves


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.


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.”



What Strange & Resilient Things


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.