The weather took a dramatic jump up this week with plenty of sunshine with warm and warming temps. The trees reacted accordingly with many of the maples coming into bloom. Although it may look like the tree leaves are budding, the trees are flowering. It’s just that the blossoms are so small that many people don’t realize what is actually happening.
The oak trees however are not yet convinced of spring. Not only will their flowers come later, in almost every oak there are bunches of brittle brown leaves still clinging tenaciously to the tree. You can hear them rattling in the breeze. Occasionally, one breaks free, twirls down and then skitters across the blacktop road ahead of me.
Science of course has a name for it. Botanists call this retention of dead plant matter “marcescence”. But knowing about something doesn’t necessarily help describe how you feel about it. What you think about a tree clinging to its dead leaves, or for that matter, dead leaves clinging to their tree, maybe tells something of the current condition of your heart.
Perhaps you see the futility of attempting to cling to something meaningful long after it has passed by. Living in the past can make the todays seem long and meaningless. Those caught continuously looking backward seldom turn in time to see the possibility of newness.
Perhaps you see the inability to face current realities. The brown leaves are like spirits of the dead that refuse accept that life is no more. The one who tries to step into the pathway of an oncoming dawn with flailing arms is powerless to derail the climbing sun.
Perhaps you see the depth of the beauty of life. Life is precious. It should never be surrendered; it should be remembered always. The dry leaves are like memories of last summer. Like memories, they are less then what they recall, but they still have texture, they still have a bit of the essence of leaves. They still catch the sunlight and the moonlight. They catch the winter snow and the spring rain drips off of them.
There are theories of why the oaks carry long-dead leaves into the emerging spring. My practical nature agrees with the thought that the stems offer protection for the new leaf buds from frost and feeding birds and squirrels. I recall watching three ruffed grouse, perched high in a tall aspen one winter afternoon, feeding for several hours on leaf buds.
But science only tells you what and how; faith tells us why. Perhaps then it is a reminder that life is richest when you are at-once fully aware of the past, the passing, the fully alive and the promise of what could be.