Janet Sheridan: Fact and whimsy inspired by fall
As I walked through the colorful confetti of fall, I noticed a few reluctant trees still clung to their leaves like parents not yet ready for the first day of kindergarten. A few had decided this was the day to say goodbye and were making quick work of the job, shedding torrents of leaves as I passed. Others had long ago discarded all their leaves, as anxious to declutter as I am after Christmas.
Watching, I wondered why trees shed their leaves at different rates and times. I’m sure I must have studied the why and when of leaf-dropping in school, but my mind, besotted by literature, theater, and the Beatles, lost track, long ago, of any leaf-knowledge it managed to acquire along with the inventor of the cotton gin and the purpose of the pi.
Researching later, I discovered the veins that carry sap to leaves shut down at different rates in different trees, cutting off the leaves’ access to nutrients and causing a layer of cells to form at the base of each leaf stem. When the layer is complete, the leaves fall. Evidently trees put more effort into clearing out their leaves than I do to cleaning out my closets.
Curiosity satisfied, I began to wonder how leaves feel about tumbling helter-skelter to the ground. Are they like young children in a swimming class, lined up on the edge of a pool ready to try their first dive and reacting in different ways to the idea of doing so? And a story began to develop…
Fall begins with brave daredevils, who let go, drop, then brag about their revels:
“Hey, guys,” they yell, “it’s floaty and fun. Let go of your tree right now and come!
The slow drift down is peaceful and easy; we didn’t feel the least bit queasy.”
But the rest of the leaves worry and wonder:
“I’m clumsy and slow; I’m sure to blunder.”
“Yeah, and I’m weak. I might rip asunder.“
“But the leapers seem so happy and free;
And I’m tired of this birch clinging to me.”
They talk, look around, stare at the ground,
Then comes a plucky leaf’s rallying cry:
“If you guys let go, then so will I.”
“OK, Buddy, let’s give it a try”…
“Oh, my, It’s not like you fall! It’s more like you fly!!”
But others hold on and have their reasons:
“It’s far too soon to change the seasons!”
“What’s so great about being on the ground?”
“A leaf could get lost and never found.”
“It’s the scariest leap I’ve ever seen.”
“And I’m not ready — I’m still green!”
They refuse to go until a heavy frost nips;
And an unfriendly wind tugs at their grips.
Then a shaking leaf asks through icy lips,
“What are we all waiting for? I can’t stand anymore!
You want to be left in an empty tree?”
And most respond, “No! Wait for me!”
But a few still remain, grumbling and placing blame:
“Look at the mess you’ve gotten us in. Don’t give me that goofy grin!
Why were you so scared and slow? I tried to tell you we should go.”
“What you say just isn’t true. You made me decide as you always do.
Then when I say what’s to be done, you unleash your poison tongue.
You complain and cry, say I’m a weak and useless guy.
Well, so long to you, Sweetie Pie, I’m letting go; I hope to fly, till your complaints are out of range, and I’m rid of this exchange!”
There is a moral to this story; ‘tis a sad one, but, oh, so true:
Change also causes us humans to behave in ways we’ll rue.