Leaving

I fear that the herald of autumn is dead.  The small maple in the park – the smallest of all the trees – always turns first.  Its leaves are bronze and gold while the others are still clothed in green.  It tells me – even if I hadn’t felt that nip in the air, that soaking of early morning dew – it tells me that autumn is here.  But this year its boughs are bare.  There was no unfurling of bud, no burst into green.  Its trunk is spattered with buttery lichen, its branches tipped with desiccated flowers, but there is nothing to suggest it lives.  The park is littered with boughs and branches.  They say that in drought, trees give up parts of themselves, making themselves smaller against the stress.  I wonder if the long winter and bruising summer were just too much for the little maple.  I wonder if somehow it has made itself dormant, and that it will sigh back into being next spring.

A crackle of geese honks in a corn field.  A twitter of swallows echoes over the cliffs.  As we move towards the earth’s gilding there is the sound of leaving in the air.  The winds sweep in, carrying the scent of far-flung shores.  The horizon yawns with promise and I wonder what a bird feels as it gazes on that expanse.  When does the leaving begin?  Perhaps its starts with a faint humming in the blood, a tremble of expectation.  Perhaps it begins with a twitch in the wing, a distance in the eye.  Until the urge can’t be contained any longer and the bird must stretch its wings.  So many birds feeling that longing, that pull of invisible threads across the planet, becoming ever tauter until they can’t be resisted.  Maybe these autumn wind storms aren’t wind at all, maybe they are the flutter of thousands of wings, churning the air with excitement.

I hear my first blackbird sing after the silence of August and I wonder what the blackbird feels.  Does it sense the urge to movement and feel loss that it is staying behind?  Does this vibration of leaving account for the expectancy I feel in autumn too?  Perhaps my body yearns for a journey while scarcely knowing it.  As a species we have wandered for so much longer than we have stayed still.  Following the herds, following the weather, following the tides.  When those early people settled in one place, they may have felt relief, but also sadness that they would no longer roam.  Maybe we have lost something in our safer, more stationary lives.

But we still have cause to roam.  3% of the world’s people are migrants, moving not at the urging of the seasons, but for a better life, for escape, for survival.  We have roamed for centuries and there are those of us for whom the journey is not over.  Some of us are the blackbird, destined to stay in one place.  Some of us are the swallow, with no choice but to move.  September has always meant change.  For a third of my life it meant moving on – another year at school, college, university – with all the promise and apprehension that held.  Now I stay still but the urge to movement is still there, somewhere deep inside.

Of course September is not only a time of leaving, but also a time of arrival.  Just as those threads pull our summer visitors away, they reel in others who will accompany us into the depths of winter.  Each season brings its own gifts, and there is a sweetness in the inevitability of each wave of coming and going.  The herald of autumn may be dead, but the old poplar is strewing its leaves on the grass like offerings of gold.  Life is all arrivals and departures.  People move into our lives and are gone.  Things alter unexpectedly.  The world of my childhood is no longer the world I live in now.  We watch and feel the joy and sorrow of each change.  It gives us our sense of history, of having lived.  But even if we stay in one place, we are never really still.  We are coming and going too.  We are the bird soaring into the horizon and the bird arriving home.  And someone, somewhere, rejoices at our passage.

74 thoughts on “Leaving

  1. I did not know that about trees … I wonder if we should try that and make ourselves smaller under stress?
    Lovely lovely descriptions of birds and travelling. We are currently on a lake in Canada and there are constant humming birds. Amazing!

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  2. What a gem this post is.
    The little maple might revive for next year…..I am quite sure it needs time to recover from the shock of extreme cold and heat.
    I love to hear the geese. I don’t hear them in London in the way I do in the countryside and when I lived in the States it was such a wonderful sound, heralding the autumn.

    Thank you – Janet

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  3. I love your writings.

    Here’s a very old-fashioned way to tell if your maple is still alive – check to see if it is still “wick” – take a penknife and make a shallow, parallel cut under the bark but above the cambium on a branch, which will expose the cambium. If the cambium is green, it’s wick. “From Old English cwic (“alive”); similar to an archaic meaning of quick (“endowed with life; having a high degree of vigor, energy, or activity”), and quicken (“come to life”).” – Wikipedia

    If dried out, white, or the bark layer won’t come off easily it’s dead, or at least that branch is. If the cambium is brown, your tree may have verticillium wilt. You’d know if it was the latter because individual branches die at different times.

    Anyway, check out this quote from ‘The Secret Garden’ regarding “wick”.
    ‘When it looks a bit greenish, and juicy, like that, it’s wick,” he [Dickon] explained.

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    • Thanks Catherine, that’s fascinating and I love the word origin. I did actually try scaping a little of the trunk with my nail (I can’t reach the branches) as I’d heard about looking for the green but wasn’t sure if I was doing it right. I may have another try, but I guess one way or another spring will tell!

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  4. I always think of the blackbird – especially in late afternoons – as not so much singing a song as making a proclamation! Now I know what the proclamation is about. And as one who has moved house 13 times in the last 18 years, I thought this piece was wonderful, Andrea.

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  5. So beautiful, Andrea. Yes, we are always in movement, even if very quietly within. My heart goes out to the little maple. I, like you, hope that maybe it’s re-building its resources and will join you next spring. How well you write about the birds feeling compelled to leave. It’s not quite that cold here yet, but the hummingbirds have already disappeared. Others will soon follow, I’m sure. Tx for a lovely post.

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  6. Such beautiful words about the sweet melancholy of autumn’s impending arrival. So sad about that little tree. I hope it’s just dormant.

    « But even if we stay in one place, we are never really still. » As someone who has recently moved back to my origins after spending much of my life moving around the planet, I can so understand this. It’s just a different kind of movement.

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  7. Reading you is always such a pleasure. It gives one the urge to stop and pay attention to what is going on around us…
    Interesting about the maple tree – you’d think with the quantity we have over here, I’d know…

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  8. Another pleasurable post, Andrea. You capture the feeling of change of season so well and the stirrings within they bring. In late fall, when the strings of geese call overhead, I feel such longing to follow them. I think the migrant DNA in me is still very much present!

    Sometimes trees take a few years to die, so if there is better weather in following years, they can recover. However, the fact that it has turned first for many years indicates it has been under stress for a while. Time to find another indicator tree, perhaps.

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  9. I love the notion of arriving and leaving simultaneously. It might explain the restlessness I feel at this time of year. Definitely more energetic, but content to sit for hours to get things done. I described it somewhere as “nesting” as I’m a hibernator come winter. Beautiful post!

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  10. Another inspiring, poetic piece, Andrea – a joy to read. We love the beautiful drama of our changing seasons. I see in it all the ‘poiema’ (New Testament Greek word) of a Creator who is always creating and delighting to express himself through bringing in the new.

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  11. I hope you haven’t lost the little maple! We have them in abundance here and they are such bright spots in autumn. I really like the images you create in this piece of writing and the idea that the “sound of leaving is in the air.”

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  12. You paint the inner landscape upon the world outside with fierce passion and rare beauty. So many threads have been spun in the musings, such meanings and purports transmuted from the instincts of swallows and blackbirds, onset and passing of seasons, spores of pain and happiness of humans.

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  13. Gorgeous prose. Happy my worst fears were not confirmed that you were moving on from your blog. Happy Fall. Hope it bring you renewal, refreshing opportunities, and superb weather.

    Autumn rocks!

    Pat

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  14. I’m feeling morose, nostalgic, hopeful, wondering, and dreamy as I read your post. Yup, all of the above. I’m sorry about “your” maple tree. We had a similar thing happen here in NE a few years ago when we had a summer drought. The amazing vibrant fall wasn’t as amazing or vibrant as usual. I worried about what those trees/perennials would show us the following spring: death? more dismay? destitution? Instead, the following spring brought vibrant colors, leaves, flowers, new growth and JOY. Quite amazing, death to life and death and life again. September makes me think of all the plants/trees slowly preparing to die for the winter quiet time. If I hadn’t lived through many springs, I’d cry.
    Oh, and the birds. I’ll admit, I’m a homebody AND a wanderer. If I had wings, I’d fly south with the birds to enjoy sun and warmth until spring returns. ;-0

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    • I’m very interested to see what this autumn brings Pam – last autumn was a particularly vibrant one, so it’ll be interesting to see whether this one is as spectacular – and what spring will bring. I don’t think of the trees as dying – they’re just hibernating, with all the activity going on inside, just like it does with us in the winter 🙂

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  15. Andrea, your insights into Autumn leavings and possible arrivals is a rich and rewarding post. If we do not roam the planet as before maybe our wandering spirits, thoughts count a bit towards movement of ourselves, our souls? I too have noticed the trees falling into autumn colours earlier than usual, the hot summer taking their toll on the trees, as if they’re unable to hold onto their leaves! I’m taken with your image of the winds of the season perhaps ‘they are the flutter of thousands of wings, churning the air with excitement.’ Wishing you a gentle ride into the new season and its surprises! Xx

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  16. I’ve a couple of baby maples in pots — one of the red variety and one of the green — but they hated the heatwave and, despite regular watering, all the tips of their young leaves are brown. I’m so hoping they survive, as I hope to plant them in the ground to replace a dead apple tree and a lilic that no longer flowers. The geese haven’t arrived yet on our bit of the south coast, but I will celebrate it when they do. Now there’s some joy for me to look forward to, Andrea… the sound of geese honking and them flying over my garden in configuration and my dog rushing outside with me to look up at the sky 🙂

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  17. You make long for the autumn ahead, full of changes and beauty and “the pull of those invisible threads across the planet, becoming ever tauter until they can’t be resisted.” You have such a beautiful way with words, and this post had me dancing with them as we watch the summer finishing her exit scene 🙂

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  18. Hello Andrea, the Blackbird won’t be alone for long, very soon it will have to share its larder with flocks of Winter guests. A few Swallows remain here, they return each evening to roost. Their playful return always makes me smile (joy), but very soon they will remain absent for longer than a few hours.
    Orion fills the southern sky, and Sirius twinkles above the Oaks, reminding us to prepare for the seasons change.
    Wrap up and keep warm and safe Andrea. Thank you for a lovely read.

    Mick.

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  19. A gorgeous and moving tribute to the changing of the seasons, Andrea. I used to think September was the start of the year, especially when my kids were in school and my television series returned for the new season. And yes, that maple may well return next spring – it may even be mid-spring before it puts out leaves. Keep hope alive!

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  20. You are at your best when you write about the subtle changes that arrive before a new season shows up, Andrea. I love every word of your post. And very much this sentence: “But even if we stay in one place, we are never really still.”

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