The other night I stood in my backyard, looking up at the full moon and the starry sky. Crickets sang their repetitive chorus as a leaf fell slowly through the air, swirling as if fell to the ground in front of me.
I picked it up, noting that I could not determine its color in the dark. In my yard it could be oak or maple, most likely maple but in that moment, I could not know for sure.
It is the season for letting go, even as gathering goes on all around us. Flocks of blackbirds and sparrows have descended on my feeders almost daily in the last week, making a racket and disrupting the usual flow of other birds, which were forced to wait their turns in a nearby shrub.
Leaves are beginning to turn and fall. A virus in some trees and the salt spray from a storm a few weeks ago have hastened the dropping of leaves, even before they’ve had a chance to turn color.
There is a sadness in this for me, as if the leaves weren’t allowed to reach their full fruition, as if they were forced to an early death.
It is difficult to stand in the world of nature and not find symbolism there. We see life and death all around us. We find beauty and peace, ugliness and violence. We prefer the former, often deliberately overlooking the latter.
Nature is neither malevolent or benevolent. Nature is neutral. Nature allows for the beauty and efficiency of both the crab and the gull, the rabbit and the fox. As humans, it is not difficult to understand and accept that one serves as food for the other, though it is not pretty to watch.
Some animals and birds hibernate or migrate too early or too late. Sometimes the ones that leave early miss the killer storm. Sometimes the ones that are late to hibernate miss the flood that would have trapped them in their lairs. In those cases, which ones were right and which ones were wrong?
Nature allows for variations, often wide and large variations, and sometimes these lead to survival in the long run. Sometimes they lead a species to extinction.
As I contemplate all this on a foggy morning walking around a salt marsh I hear but cannot see a hawk overhead. I stop to think on this, as I imagine the hawk cannot see much though the heavy gray mist. I can only see fifty yards or so in front of me and it is a murky view at best.
Is the hawk out flying because it can? Is it young and hungry and doesn’t know yet that fog will decrease its hunting success?
One thing that the neutrality of nature has over us as emotional humans is the ease of letting go. Nature allows for the early falling of leaves, the confused and disoriented hawk, the crab that never saw the gull coming as well as the crab that did and escaped.
It allows for butterflies blown out to sea and seeds dropped on windswept rocks. Some will survive, some will not.
I have a much harder time letting go, it seems. News of mass shootings and the aftermaths of horrific weather events leave me depressed and upset. Knowing our government, as well as many others, are in a time of upheaval and unrest that could undo years of efforts to sustain and maintain our environment and empathetic social structures keeps me awake at night.
I cannot be the maple tree dropping leaves without a care. I want to do something to stop it. I want to plug the holes, pull the poisonous weeds and stop the insanity. And yet, like the maple, there is not much I alone can do to stop any of it.
We are living in interesting times. We can accept that our individual actions will not likely change a thing or we can join with others and hope that they can.
On the coldest winter nights, even feisty chickadees gather together in tree holes and nest boxes to keep warm and survive.