Saturday, September 25, 2010

The turning of the seasons

The maple tree up the road from our driveway is turning scarlet. Leaves are beginning to fall from the trees and gather in drifts on the ground. Through the thinning leaves, I see the white blades of our wind generator flashing against an autumn blue sky. So many indicators of fall – the cool crisp morning air, swallows gathered on the power lines, mice in the house. But the biggest indicators, especially for people who don’t spend a lot of time observing outdoors, or who aren’t familiar with the countryside, are the leaves.

Mohamed, a young Somali man who came as a refugee two winters ago, watched the approach of fall with horror. “Why are the trees dying?” he asked.

In late summer, the bright green colors seem to drain from many of the leaves, leaving them dull, more bronze than green. The exceptions are the brilliant golds of the birch, aspen, and tamarack, the scarlet maples, sumac and dogwood, and later the red oaks all of which seem to get brighter in autumn. I don’t know if Mohamed appreciated the color changes, but he definitely worried as more and more leaves fell from the trees.

He had already lived a year and a half in Minnesota, but perhaps the first autumn he had been overwhelmed by the process of learning how to survive in a land so different from his own to notice the slow drift of trees toward skeletal dormancy. Or perhaps, living in a city, even a small city he hadn’t noticed the trees at all. Only after helping us on the farm for a summer had he begun to see the trees, appreciate the trees, and worry as he watched them lose their leaves.

Mohamed saw the loss of leaves as a precursor of death, not understanding that in Minnesota, autumn turns to winter, spring always follows, and that green leaves will come again.

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