Not long ago, the four of us took an unfamiliar walk together. Up a dirt road, through the trees and the sound of wind and water, we walked through the light drizzle of the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The air that touched only our faces and fingers was colder than the girls had ever felt. They jumped in the puddles and stomped down the remaining snow and my wife and I held hands. It was wonderful and foreign. The smiles beneath our red cheeks was the only story that needed to be told.
The unfamiliar has a way of reminding us of beauty that might otherwise go unnoticed. We take for granted that which we see every day. Until, of course, we don’t see it every day. I try very hard to appreciate all that is around me, but on that cold morning, a thousand miles from home, it was the barren branches that reminded me how full life really is.
The dormancy of winter is part of the natural cycle. Perhaps it’s an ending. Perhaps it’s just the beginning, though. Soon after the snow melts away the leaves return and grow vibrant and green. Summer comes and life is full. The air turns cooler again and the leaves age, gaining character and depth in their oranges and reds and yellows. Then they fade and fall. What once was the abundance of life quietly blends into the floor below and infuses the soil with the energy to start the process all over again.
Beginning, middle and end. But not really. The beginnings and endings are only reserved for the leaves themselves. Each one of them individual, experiencing the tree and then the forest in their own way. To the leaves, there is no such thing as before and no such thing as after. But each one of them is simply part of the circle. And to the circle, there are only middles.
I think it’s easy to get caught up in just being a leaf. It’s hard to see past the other leaves on the branch and to understand our relationship to everything that we can’t see. It is, indeed, a big forest. Without knowing what was here before us or what will be after, our perspective becomes limited. The little bud that turns into a brilliant green and then a comfortable orange can feel so finite even in its beauty. And then when another leaf on our branch separates and falls away we can sometimes only see the suffering of the end of that leaf, and sometimes only our own.
What is comforting is to know that it is bigger than that. All the leaves will fall and they will all feed the forest. They were all once beautiful and then they were gone. And that’s okay. They are still beautiful, now just in a different way. They may not be what they once were, but they are still part of the forest.
It was a beautiful walk that day not long ago. We were surrounded by trees without any leaves at all. I will always try to remember the sound of the wind whipping through the bare branches just waking up, ready to continue the cycle with new leaves. It was nice to think about the leaves beneath our feet, the ones beneath the mud and snow, and how they are still there, only now in different form. It was nice to be reminded that they will always be there.