Other People’s Trees

Another one from the vault; this was written in October 2009. Swamped with copywriting today, so I thought I’d post a “reader favorite” to keep things going! Thanks for stopping by, and please feel free to comment. I’d love to hear your stories! Happy October!

Photo by Jared Erickson

Walkway at Sidecut Metropark. Photo by Jared Erickson.

Other People’s Trees

There is a crunchy carpet of oak and maple leaves covering my backyard. It’s a somber sort of mottled brown, flecked with gold and red. The fragrance of dying vegetation is a soft, subtle fog rising up, the ghosts of summer greenness. Yes, it is definitely fall.

I both delight in and dread this time of year. I love the color, the turning of the weather, the deepness of October blue in the skies. But I feel the melancholy that dogs me all throughout the year now gaining on me, threatening to carpet me with jagged edges of guilt, worthlessness and loneliness. Like the trees, I shed all the brightness I’ve clothed myself in and stand bared; twisted and bent and gnarled with the roughness of life-so-far. It’s cold and getting colder. And all around me on the ground are the decaying reminders of how temporary happiness is.

But wait – I’m painting a picture for you that isn’t complete if it stays here in the dyingness of the season.

Back to my yard now – back to the drifts of leaves in my driveway, up against my fence, huddled in the corners and around the bushes edging my property. I would like to note for you that in all my tiny thirteenth of an acre I have one small scraggled crabtree with only one saving grace in that it bursts into glorious purple-pink in May. The leaves on this tree are small and fall off much earlier in the season.

Which begs the question, from whence did these leaves covering my backyard come?

Other people’s trees.

They come on the wind: raining down from trees beyond my borders or somersaulting along the ground. They are drifters, shifting loyalty from one yard to the next, aimlessly pursuing a final resting ground. Which, of course, appears to be my backyard. They are godlike – no respecter of persons. They pay no attention to boundaries otherwise recognized by citizen and government alike.

Most of my neighbors have dutifully herded their leaves to the curb with rakes and leaf blowers and bright blue tarps. Their yards are combed and clipped, as clear from any sign of the season as possible. These neighbors are the responsible ones.

Meanwhile, I pull into a littered driveway and stare dejectedly at the mounds snared in my too-high grass. I feel resentment at this intrusion on my grounds; it’s hard enough keeping up with my yardwork – weeding, pruning, mowing – without these gatecrashers flung out on my lawn. I search myself for the motivation to clean them up. Nope, not there.

I wonder now… why clean them up? Why the need to assert control over the natural untidiness of creation? Why the expectancy from all around to present a false front? For those like me who leave their yards to fate, we are the ones our neighbors look askance at, always with the “why can’t you be more like the rest of us?” in their eyes.

Which brings me to myself, and to many with whom I share my life. Each of us with seasons when the normalcy we’ve clothed ourselves with falls away and we find ourselves naked with our lives scattered wherever they landed.

Most of us feel ashamed when this happens. After all, it often requires our family and friends – the ones into whose yards our “junk” has fallen – to not only see our mess, but to help us clean it up. Or, what may even be the greater service, to sometimes let what has fallen away remain in their yards to quietly and naturally decay, and to gently celebrate the vulnerability in which we find ourselves. Not mocking, not looking away in shared shame, not rushing to futilely pin on false leaves, but seeing us as we are and accepting our twistedness, our roughness.

Here is the rest of the picture to paint for you: Winter will come, and bare trees will sleep, cold but transformed with frost and snow and ice. Then the coldness will melt away; sometimes the ground will still be littered with what’s left of the leaves of autumn, but the air will warm eventually and we will see the annual miracle – that what fell away before was making room for new growth and new beauty.

There is death and life, vulnerability and community, and grace littered all throughout.