Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Falling leaves

This morning I surprised myself by thinking up what I saw as a children's book about the exciting experience of one leaf, as it fell in autumn. I made it a sugar maple leaf, and could imagine the book being beautifully illustrated. It did not strike me as marketable.

The truth is, the children's books I like (I keep up with the award-winners) are not interested in dying, but in growing up. Some books deal with heroism and have lots of plot, meaningful interaction between forces for evil and good (Only You Can Save Mankind). Some deal with life's very small, very important problems, like fear of being totally out of it in kindergarten (Wemberly Worried). My story is about changing, aging, and dying: a leaf falls. It strikes me now that, sadly, there might be a need for children's books about accepting one's own death.

As we age, those of us lucky enough to be grandparents become opened to the joy of childhood, often with an inner freedom we never felt as kids. When we develop serious illnesses, we become opened, like it or not, to the fact that we are mortal. We are dying. This takes you through a very rocky, arid place, but it can lead outward, to the knowledge that each day is precious, each moment will never be seen again.

Autumn is advancing here, with frost at night. Today the giant sycamore at the corner of Henderson and High strode forth. As it loses leaves, its enormous white branches stand with great power against the sky, which is a certain shade of blue on this day. The various pines are suddenly (it seems) loaded with cones, some smaller than my thumbnail, some longer than my hand. The leaves in the ravine, unspoiled by rain, are drifting down the hillsides, and filling almost-dry Adena Brook with gold.

Looking over the ravine from my back yard, I see there is not as much orange as in the photo above, which I took when we bought the house. That exact autumn will never be repeated, though if you look closely you will see the stone meditation bench, not visibly changed, and near the left edge, the tiny, patient figure of St. Francis with birds.

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