by Cynthia Ruchti
Ombre. Color that is graduated in tone. From light pink to dark pink. Light gray to charcoal. Or this:
Light radiance to dark rust.
This far north, the brilliant colors of autumn are in decline. I watched leaves ripped from their moorings by an impatient wind, scattered like the snowflakes that will too soon take their place. If I could, I would have gathered the gold and reattached the leaves to the tree so I could enjoy this brief season a little longer.
But the tree itself--its presence--reminded me of the fruitlessness of that pursuit and the purpose of the entire life cycle. Not just birth. Not just growth. Death, too.
This tree graces our south yard because its parent tree--we've always thought of it as a she--in the north yard lost its life. The mama tree was magnificently huge, dominating the yard with much sought after shade in the summer and a true spectacle of color every fall. It served as our family connecting point. "If there's ever a house fire or other disaster and we have to evacuate, we'll all meet at the big maple."
Two decades ago, disaster took out our gathering spot. Lightning made an opening for disease. Eventually, we had no choice but to rev up the chain saw and end its to-that-point life. My husband made key chains out of discs cut from smaller branches and memory boxes from planks harvested from the trunk. The family held each other--I know, sappy…and isn't that ironic?--as we watched the tree fall, overcome by the soberness of losing such a great tree. At the time, we didn't know we'd have keychains and memory boxes. All we knew was the loss of a cherished sentinel in the north yard.
From the base of the tree, my husband also dug a sapling.
The above picture is that sapling twenty years later. It had such a slow start, as if it too missed its mama. Failure to thrive. Then, a few years ago, it sported more than a handful of leaves. Not enough to make a scene, or decent shade, but signs of life. Now, it claims its own identity in a different part of the yard, but with an ombre brilliance that reminds us of its heritage.
The sapling might have been mowed down if not for the loss of the parent tree and our desire to pull something living from our losses.
The life lessons lie as thick as the crisp leaves at a tree's base.
- What seems like loss may lead to a new beginning.
- Beauty can't help but reproduce itself.
- The full picture takes a long time to develop.
- Salvaging art from the broken keeps beauty alive.