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Being Leaves

24th December 2023 @ 6:06am – by Adrian Leighton
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Being Leaves by Adrian Leighton

For once the December afternoon was bright and clear. The sun, low in the sky, blinded my eyes, The trees, bereft of their covering, gave little shadow. As I walked along the towpath I was forced to look downwards to entertain my mind. To tell the truth, there was not much of interest to whet the appetite of my senses. Not a lot to see in the gritty path, the boot trodden grass, a slowly evaporating puddle and leaves – hundreds, thousands, millions of them in various states of decay.

Some were already being assimilated into the muddy soil but others still lay as they had fallen, full of the sharpness of their shape. Many were from adjacent oak trees, now standing with their filigree branches naked and proud. The fallen leaves still had ownership of the trees through their shape. Those of the Turkey Oak with their sharp pointed fingers, the Pedunculate (English) Oak rounded ends, or the Sessile (Welsh) Oak with its bulbous base end.. Their common feature was their colour – Brown.

To some this is the colour of expended life, even decay. In the land of the living it represents uselessness. But lying on the ground these leaves seemed to me to have a particular dignity even beauty.. Each leaf reflected a self confidence which remain from its place high up on the tree when it radiated a hue of green. Then it was an instrument of the energy of life on earth. Part of the miracle of change we call photosynthesis which sustains the delicate balance that lets us live. Each leaf performed as an alchemist, using the ancient elements of Fire (the Sun), Air (Oxygen and carbon), Water (Rain) and the Earth to conjure up the Gold of life.

The memory of those golden days remains in the golden brown shapes that cover the earth.They wait not as useless discards but parcels of energy and life ready to enter that process of depositing that goodness back into the earth to be used again in the production of new life next year. Here is the perfect recycling – unlike our fumbling human attempts. For the natural world there is no waste bin, for all that falls and dies is taken back to its elements to nourish new life – no artificial fertilizers needed here.

So on that quiet seemingly empty afternoon, it was the simplest of things, the fallen leaves, that lead me thinking about the very essence of the process of life around me. To look with a respect at those brown proud leaves which in the process of dying make available what is needed for new life. It reminds me of the reported last words of St David (Dewi Sant , to our Welsh readers) to his companions “Consider the little things”.

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