The Leaf that Fell

The Leaf was born from the Great Aspen Tree that rose upon the High Hill in the West. It was born during the season of high cerulean skies when the snows melted and cold water ran quick between the rock canyon walls. Inside the closed bud the Leaf heard the ceaseless trickling waters of the World and almost became a fish then. But Chickadee sat on a limb and sang sweet encouraging melodies, so the Leaf gained heart and guidance and knew itself to be of the Land.

There are many leaves that never bloom, if not guided by birdsong.

The Leaf struggled to bud. Until finally, on a bright mid-morning in March, it split the husk and lifted its head to the warm Sun. No one was there to give the Leaf a name—the Sun gives kisses, not names—but it was alive, and that was enough to know.

The Leaf thought, I am weird and different. Other leaves ridiculed it for being so odd. But it was these questions that promised the Leaf an extraordinary life. tweet

Rain fell in April and the Leaf shed its infant hues and greened. Its siblings tossed water drops between them. They laughed at the squirrels and played tricks of the wind on the birds. The Leaf joined their games, but often found itself wondering alone.

From the end of the branch it could see for many miles across the treetops of the forest to a distant hazy horizon. While the others played, it asked the Sky many questions, Who am I and where will I go? But no answers came. The Leaf thought, I am weird and different. Other leaves ridiculed it for being so odd. But it was these questions that promised the Leaf an extraordinary life. When all the others had died–and that time was drawing near–it was these questions that kept the Leaf alive.

Summer came to the High Hill and the leaves became serious. They began to play adult games. They made hard plans for the seasons and conjured great hope in a faraway Spring. Some leaves realized unfortunate destinies, chewed apart by the caterpillars, and this became a lesson to the others–Succeed!

Some leaves began to yellow in September. They attempted to hide their change by staying in motion, constantly shifting the light over their surfaces. Soon they were exhausted, their veins rough and aged, and they became depressed and hung limply from the branches. The other leaves, still green, shunned them. Only our Leaf was kind. When rain showers came–and they came less often now in the late dry summer–the Leaf cupped a hand and sent droplets down upon their wilted faces.

Some leaves realized unfortunate destinies, chewed apart by the caterpillars, and this became a lesson to the others–Succeed! tweet

Now imagine a hot dry October comes to the High Hill. The Sun a blazing fireball overhead. The Great Aspen Tree the color of a flaming torch; every leaf now yellow or orange or red. Every leaf crisping, not one spared. A fiery raspy wind blows and the tree is filled with the rattles of death. Hear the leaves scrape upon each other! Hear their cries for mercy, their shouts of regret and disillusion! Fear has come to that High Hill and not even Mother Nature escapes blame. The inevitable time has come.

The Leaf clung to the branch and trembled and forgot its soft-shaded memories. It could no longer hear the Chickadee sing. Below all the forest looked to be burning. The siblings pushed and shoved and the Leaf was punched through with many holes. Caught up in fright, the Leaf broke off the tip of a brother. I’m sorry, our little shaking Leaf said, I’m so terribly sorry.

The leaves began to fall.

The ones who remained shut their eyes. Hold on, they said, Hold on!

But to the Leaf came a single Whisper on the wind.

Let go, the Whisper said, I’ll catch you.

The horizon, this is what the Leaf last saw–a hazy strip of foam above a burning sea. But no longer was it distant as in youth; now almost it seemed to come from within. A breeze came with a gentle touch, the Leaf felt immense peace, and let go the branch.

Let go, the Whisper said, I’ll catch you. tweet

We believe leaves die because they fall, but this is not true. Leaves die because they hold on. For if a leaf lets go while still alive, though it might appear cracked and riddled with holes, inside is a new strength that can carry it on for some time more.

The Leaf opened its eyes. A wind current carried it high aloft in the stratosphere; it could see further than ever before. Miles and miles stretched out below. The forest was gone, replaced by sprawling grasslands and river bottoms.

The Leaf had never felt such freedom. It did not know where it was going, was empty of desire, simply content to ride the wind. Thank you, it said to the Sky, Thank you very much for this.

The Leaf knew of people, had heard their stories from the ancient bark of the Tree. Now their homes and farms and towns floated past far below. The Leaf became intrigued by a train and the wind current shifted to align itself with the tracks, as if it was meant to be. 

And in this way the Leaf learned about love. How beautiful, it thought, This must be how people let go of their trees and fall. tweet

A strong gust came and blew the Leaf down and into an open window to land on the nose of a beautiful woman. A man seated next to her took the Leaf and placed it inside a book. The Leaf listened as the man spoke to the woman.

He said, Darling, I don’t know where we’re going. 

And she answered, Neither do I, but we’ll go together.

And in this way the Leaf learned about love. How beautiful, it thought, This must be how people let go of their trees and fall.

The Leaf traveled with the man and woman inside their book. It heard their whispers in the night when they lay together and spoke of their dreams. It heard their footsteps mixed together as they ran through the snow. It heard their tears when they cried together. It heard their silences, when they needed no words to know each other, when they knew each other most truly. The Leaf began to love them too.

The Leaf thought many things that night. I am cracked and riddled with holes, it thought, I am ugly. tweet

Then one day–deep into winter it was now–the man opened the book and gave the Leaf to the woman. She kissed it and threw it into the air, but the winds were faint. The Leaf fell to the ground near an old farmhouse at the end of a walking trail. The cold February day was low and fading. The Leaf shivered on the hard ground beneath frozen rotting timber. Alone. It had never felt such pain, not even when leaving the Aspen Tree.

The Leaf thought many things that night. I am cracked and riddled with holes, it thought, I am ugly.

New cracks began to form upon the Leaf, lines of sorrow and despair. ‘Round midnight, hate came upon the Leaf and it trembled in rage. It thought, How dare they throw me away!

But always, always beneath this, more did the Leaf hate itself. 

Finally the Leaf was overcome with immense grief. It thought, I miss my innocence most.

The ice on the Leaf melted away until the Leaf lay in a puddle of mud. But the Sun continued, and eventually even the puddle was gone.

Dew formed upon the Leaf but quickly froze. Ice encrusted it. It took safety in this new shell. It thought, I shall stay here forever and never again let myself be hurt by the weather.

The night turned very dark. The Sun crept upon the land slowly, but it came–always it will come again. The Leaf did not see it come.

The farmhouse caught the first rays of dawn, its wooden broken walls sighed with the warmth and the rotten timber began to thaw. The ice on the Leaf melted away until the Leaf lay in a puddle of mud. But the Sun continued, and eventually even the puddle was gone.

Then to the Leaf came a single Whisper on the wind.

Let go, the Whisper said, I’ll carry you.

And it did.

  • Shawnna says:

    Sooo good Joe – the literary stuff you’re writing lately is top-notch! I had to comment on this one because of this comment, “we believe leaves die because they fall. But this is not true, they die because they hold on.” The workshop I just attended, and briefly mentioned, Diane told that exact same story, almost verbatim. Struck me then and makes me think two things now: one, great minds think alike, and two, clearly this is a message I was meant to hear if I’m seeing it twice 🙂

    As I was reading, I also wondered whether the leaf is loosely based on any real life characters? A good writer perhaps shall never tell 😉

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