Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
I have always found trouble embracing the Fall season.
There’s inevitably a moment every year around the end of October where I feel an overwhelming need to start doing things. Get new clothes. Start new projects. Fix things around the house. It’s as if time is coming to a close and all those unfinished aspects of my life will be magically tidied up and put away by busily distracting myself with new and exciting things.
I remember during one of my Wellness Coaching classes at the Maryland University of Integrated Health that we were asked to describe our favorite season and I said I didn’t know; but I definitely knew that I did NOT like the fall.
I mentioned that it felt like that time of year when everything dies and there’s no hope left before the winter descends upon us. I mentioned that I loved how in places like Hawaii life always stayed fresh and new. Yes, I know Mr. Frost, how mistaken I was.
Robert Frost aside, when I expressed this unhealthy attachment to all things new and fresh, one of my classmates just laughed at me and said, “You are Larry, the Leaf.”
“Huh?” I responded.
“Larry, the leaf, the last leaf on the tree who just won’t drop…you know, from the children’s book about learning to let go.”
Clearly, I didn’t know what she was talking about but I was intrigued.
The book tells the tale of Larry, the leaf, who lives on a tree with the rest of his family and who makes friends with a handful of wily forest creatures who come and go from the story. They all grow up together and become the greatest of friends. Larry, the youngest of his branch, grows to be the brightest and the greenest of all his sibling-leaves and emerges as the hero.
But one day Larry notices that his fellow leaves are changing colors. One by one, the other leaves disappear and Larry grows concerned. He asks his closest sibling to explain why he is changing colors. The older leaf urges Larry to let go. He suggests that Larry let his colors fade into a different hue, just as he himself begins to turn a brilliant and beautiful orange.
Larry resists. He holds on with all his strength despite noticing that his own brilliant green has started to fade into a muted shade of brown.
The other leaves are long gone and Larry alone holds onto his branch. The wind pulls at him, breaking off corners of his now crusty edges. He grips the tree with all his strength through rain, snow, sleet. He holds on through the coming winter storms until, eventually, he has no strength left, and he lets go.
We watch as Larry descends through space, alone, defeated, crest-fallen.
And then the perspective shifts, and we see through Larry’s eyes as he turns back and witnesses the entirety of the tree, beautifully, majestically, reaching with long-empty branches into the infinite space of the brilliant blue sky.
Larry begins to realize that he was never the tree. He was but just one leaf on something much bigger, much more important. His job was never to stay on the tree but to grow, to be the greenest and lushest of leaves that he could be and, at some point, to fall from that tree in the same beautifully gracious way that he grew into his most glorious state.
As Larry comes to this realization, he turns once again, this time towards the ground and sees below him all his friends, waiting for him to land amongst them and complete his journey.
I get it. Larry, the Leaf, is a pretty heavy-handed parable for the process of death and the belief of an afterlife.
Hey, it’s published by Christian Faith Publishing, Inc so no hiding the underlying philosophical conceit folks. But, as Pat Ryan says, don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story, and Larry’s story is darn good.
I’m not Larry, the leaf, and neither are you but I can’t help but think that we could all be a little better off if we learned to let go of the stuff that no longer serves us.
Fall is a time of harvesting, of cutting away. We find so many cultures have festivals centered around death and decay at this time of year. Halloween anyone?
Don’t buy the Jungian-based universal collective consciousness crap? Well what about natural sciences?
Each year, deciduous trees draw back their nutrients from their outer branches as the sun shifts into a lower angle in relation to the Earth. As the leaves age, they break down most of the more energy-expensive pigments they have produced, such as chlorophyll, and absorb parts of them back into their stems for other uses. When the green color of chlorophyll is gone, the other colors are unmasked and the leaves turn to bright brilliant hues of orange, red, yellow, and purple.
These nutrients eventually find their way into the trunk of the tree where they reconsolidate in the core and the roots in order to fuel and sustain the tree through the winter. If we cut a tree open (GASP!), we can determine its age by the rings formed through this seasonal process.
To those of us tortured by the ever increasing speed of time manifested in the frenetic passage of Tick Tock video after video, the slow and methodical process of a tree’s life must seem like time has come to a complete stand still.
But stop. Listen. Take a moment to slow down. Choose inaction in the face of the overwhelmingly powerful drive to hold on to some artificial illusion of busyness and do just a little bit less than what you think you must do.
The trees are talking to us through the emergence of their fall foliage. They are telling us to let go. To let our energy flow back into the core of who we are and to prepare for the next season of the year where we have the opportunity to let ourselves heal. To rekindle. To let time pass at a rate not measured in 60-second Instagram stories or 128-character tweets.
In the gym, we measure the passage of time through benchmarks. We look at SugarWOD and notice that it’s been six months since we did the workout “Cindy.” We see that our last time on the workout “Fran” is almost two years old. We are surprised when we find that we haven’t set a one-rep-max deadlift since before the lock down.
These are the measures of time that we use as an artificial illusion of progress, and they work, more or less. But I also think that we lose sight of how they work when we fall victim to the belief that we simply measure progress through constant linear improvement.
The wisdom of the trees is that we need setbacks. We need seasons when all the leaves fall from our branches. We need the process of pruning away the dead branches in order to see the gouges in our trunks, to bear witness to the scars, the scrapes, the edges left bare to the elements of the world. If we artificially hold onto an unhealthy sense of perpetual growth, our trunks, our cores, our roots cannot reset to truly grow strong once again.
So let go, Larry. Let yourself float away into space and be a bit curious about what the next season has in store for you.
If nothing else, if this drifting off into the cold, uncertain space of the approaching winter turns out to truly be the end of it all, at least we can go down in a blaze of fiery oranges, reds, yellows, and purples huddled close to a raging bonfire with a warm pumpkin-spiced latte in our hands and a comfy blanket wrapped around our shoulders imagining the glory of another golden spring to come.
That’ll be nice too.
See you on the Creek.