I wrote a couple of weeks ago that the late summer is my favorite time of year. And so it is, in many ways. And yet the onset of autumn does have its poignancy as well: the fading of the light, the first breaths of cold, the sense of the fertile earth beginning to shut down and getting ready for rest. It can be delicious, but there is a tugging sense of loss that has been with me the past few days. And the sliding angle of the light is at least part of the reason.
This melancholy mood is buoyed by the fall colors. And so right now I’m glad I chose Maple as the tree for the autumn equinox (7:22am Pacific Time, tomorrow!) in my personal tree calendar. The woods around here are full of big-leaf maple, with a huge and dramatic presence in nearby Carkeek Park and Llandover Woods. They live just uphill from the wetland-loving alders, and in the coming autumn days they will cover the hillsides and dry valleys with leaves as big as your head, falling from their mighty reaching branches. I love them.
In our backyard we have three Japanese maples, include one specimen that is quite impressive, over three stories high with strong graceful limbs and countless tiny leaves.. Most mornings I spend a few minutes nestled against its trunk, breathing the (usually) damp odor of moss and mould. I ask it for wisdom – and on many days I receive it, in the form of clarity, insight, some hint of what lies on the road ahead. Since I started doing this a couple of years ago, by now there is no tree in the world that I know more intimately or feel more connected to. It’s turning out that this relationship, beyond any specific benefit I might receive, is the most important part of the practice. I feel myself shifting slowly into a deeper and calmer place (though there are plenty of days of backsliding!).
Walking through the woods with a friend a few days ago, we were noticing how remarkable it is that trees stay in one place through their entire lives. They open themselves to the experience the earth has to offer them in that one place, and they slowly take it in and slowly respond. While the nature of humans is to move, the nature of trees is to stay put – and I think there is something for us to learn from that. We don’t just move – we move all the time, we move too fast, and increasingly not just too fast, but frantically, in a panic. It’s really quite neurotic.
So today I am grateful to all trees but especially to my personal friend the Japanese maple. What an honor to spend time in its presence!
My tree chant for the autumn equinox is:
O Maple of the season
Teach me to hear your wisdom
I invite you to find a tree and breathe with it – not just once, but for a few seasons. Standing next to it for a few minutes every day, you might feel a few roots of your own starting to grow.