The dead things I appreciate include the leaves and bits of leaves shed by the woods that I’m privileged to call my neighbors. The leaves did a spectacular dance today in the backwashing air of the pickup truck that moved along our road about 50 feet ahead of my car.
This winding, twisting, turning, two-lane road stretches four-plus miles from our house to the nearest cross-street. Much of its length is mostly uninhabited by humans but the trees abound. In normal times the woods are nurtured by water that hangs in our tropically humid, Deep Southern air, by the mud, muck and liquid-ish swampland that surrounds the neighborhood, resting languidly at the woody roots, and by the rains that come and go – – in more normal times – – as downpours, sprinkles, hurricanes, tropical storms, mists, fogs, and all other forms of liquid water emerging downward from the atmosphere, that heavenly seat of mystery. This year, though, the trees have struggled, having to reach further than ever into the Mother to find sufficient water, and the leaves as they matured into autumn didn’t turn their usual shades of yellow and brown, but rather a strange yellow-grey-greenish color that cried out, “We’re thirsty!”
No doubt the trees have been more relieved than usual to release their leafy burdens this year, and the leaves even moreso to relinquish their respiratory duties on behalf of their woody parental stems and trunks. As the truck moved along the road in front of me this morning, keeping to the 20-mile-per-hour speed limit, the leaves covering the road it crossed were ecstatic in the dance that they danced for my eyes only. Millions of leaves surround my home, the leaves of hundreds of thousands of trees: oak, cypress, pecan, maple, hackberry, Chinese tallow. The leaves cavorted in their pirouettes, jetés, grand jetés, twirls, somersaults and half-gainers: spontaneous, delightful, far out-performing the Broadway musical I saw last week in the theater. The leaves took such delight that I could even hear their music, like the tinkling of a million tiny bells clink-clinking with fairy laughter as they swirled with the air and came to rest once more on the pavement.
Driving along the same road as I returned home from my errand, there was no vehicle in front of mine to encourage the leaves in their performance. If I looked in my rearview mirror I could get the barest glimpse of their dance behind me, but of course it isn’t safe to drive that way, just like it isn’t safe to live that way, although many of us do, myself included on occasion. The leaves along the road were quiet on my drive home, until a gusty bit of breeze blew through the woods just as I was passing the old pecan orchard. I stopped the car, allowing myself to be anointed by the curtain of pecan leaves that came cascading through the air – – above me, in front of me, behind me, bestowing their airy blessings in every direction as they left their parents, bound on returning to the soil that gave them their parents in the first place, that rose them above the earth’s surface to their uplifted places in the chlorophylic canopy that resides between us and the sky
Even now, as I look out the window in front of my desk, the leaves continue to dance.
I don’t know that I’ll ever again be able to refer to such leaves as “dead.”