Out strolling, I learn how
the ocher yellow birch leaves tremble
against a robin-egg-blue sky. In a fairy tale,
a man finds a grove of trees
with leaves of gold, and here, now,
I believe it to be true. He could have plucked
these very leaves
as proof of the world’s wonder.
* * *
I have lived in Northern California most of my life. There are few birch trees, if any, and few trees that even bother changing color with the coming of Autumn. The seasons are less defined, blending one into the other with little differentiation. The first signs of Fall came only a few weeks ago with a noticeable chill to the morning air, a few sporadic grey-skied days with light rains lasting no longer than a day.
I remember piles of leaves, brown and yellow and golden, covering lawns. The rustle and crunch of them beneath my sneakered feet, sweeping huge piles into the air with one sweep of my feel. I imagine these memories attached to my younger years in Alaska, but more likely it would have been California â€” making my nostalgia misplaced. Perhaps this is in part due in part to my present longing for a true Autumn, a true Winter, at the very least a week of storms and rain.
* * *
I don’t much care for the hero in the story of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses“, who stalks the ladies down into the forests of gold leaves and silver leaves and then ruins the party.
Though to be honest, no one comes off well in this story. The king is sending men after his sleeping daughters and chopping heads off when they find nothing. The daughters blissfully drug the men, knowing they will die for their failure.
Still, I put my sympathy with the daughters, who seek adventure and dancing and joy. Though the hero brings them home and helps their father tether them to hope, I imagine each girl, one by one, shucking off the cords and wandering away for new adventures. The door to the magic lands may be closed, but their feet are strong and the world is wide. There is enough gold in the sun and silver in the clouds to give them joy, as they discover new shores and ensnare new friends into the freedom of dancing.
* * *
In fairy tales, everything â€” gifts, tests, friends â€” come in threes. They say that about deaths, too. When celebrities die, we count them in groups of three, create a grouping of deaths and call the curse down when the third falls. As though folk tale superstition can stop the flow of time, can hold back and make sense of the chaos of daily life. Summer becomes Autumn whether we like it or not, and we all must cross the threshold of Winter to reach the Spring.
* * *
Look what has become
of my heart, the husk of a brown leaf,
hold it in your hand, watch
it crumble to dust
and feed the earth,
in the cold, in the dark,
see the tender shoot
of its feeling