Here in the Oregon woods, we don’t rake away the fallen maple leaves, nor the oak, nor anything that falls in the forest and still belongs there. Slowly the leaves of differing trees become one, become part of the soil. The leaves feed the trees they fall from. They feed the ground itself, without waste or comment. The inherent wisdom of the leaves inspires me—including how they need no mind to play their perfect part.
Branches will fall too, when winter deepens. Moisture makes them heavy, tests them, finds ones ready for release. When I move fallen branches from across our gravel roads and trails, they’re almost always ones with barely any inner wood structure left. They’ve already been preparing to join the soil.
When I look more deeply, I notice how even the roots of decaying stumps still hold the soil. Like the leaves and fallen branches, they continue to have vital living purpose after their first life is over. Their natural aliveness transcends their passing.
In my view, ours does too. All we do, feel and create inevitably finally falls; yet it continues to feed those it has touched and may touch still. The story of our life doesn’t end, when we become as the leaves, the branches, the remains of former trees. Our roots too will hold the soil for others when we’re gone.
So, as I watch the leaves of a spectacular fall fade, I celebrate the continuing gifts of all who’ve had an impact and faded—and all of us have had an impact. We affect the days we live in. Our days forever affect the future. We’re all inextricably woven into the living fabric of time.
Thus I don’t rake away fallen days either. They too still have their purpose. They mulch into soul, giving the richness from which new days grow. The bad days mulch equally with the good ones. The difficult days arrive precisely as early as the sweet. They’re all vital compost.
I notice that there are no off days for the trees, either. They don’t take holidays from growing, shedding leaves, reintegrating the fallen, or falling themselves. I pay attention to that wisdom too. It reminds me that there’s no time off from being human either. The wounds and the gifts of our own small purpose are alive in every moment too.
Walking today’s trail, I let calendar pages crunch underfoot as maple leaves do. Over twenty thousand days have dried, curled and fallen since my birth. I’d never count maple leaves. Only trivial curiosity makes me stop to count my days. What matters is that every morning without fail, I get up early to greet another dawn as diligently as the trees, to do my flawed best to turn my wounds into gifts; to celebrate the best in others beside me.
With humility I learn from the leaves that my life’s most important aspect may be how well I feed our shared soil, as I fade in service of others to come.