Flourishing Trees

I walked along the greenway with my dog, both of us banished from the house in the middle of the afternoon so strangers could walk through and decide if this would become their new home. I tried to make myself at home with my thoughts, as we crunched leaves underfoot, the dog and I.

I picked up one of the biggest leaves I’ve seen this season—a perfect fall blend of red, yellow and green—and looked up to find the towering tree that shed it. Through the canopy of smaller trees, I spied it, the old giant. I decided to take its leaf home and see if, along the way, I could find its tiniest counterparts. It became a game, and my dog relished the extra stops (more nose-to-the-ground time).

FallLeavesBigandSmall2014_FT

Fall leaves … giant and small

I’ve finally found the tree that sheds a different sort of huge leaf into my yard every year. It eluded me all these years, shedding its leaves before the shorter, smaller trees shed theirs and therefore making it impossible for me to know which tree dropped the large, brown leaves. The tree lives in a neighbor’s yard and freely shares its leaves with us all.

Frost said, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” and this tree is one of those somethings, caring not one whit for fences or boundary lines or yards that have been freshly raked.

You may not think of trees shedding their leaves this time of year as flourishing trees, but that’s exactly what they are. They’ve learned that to survive the cold and dark of winter, they cannot fight nature. So they shed what they don’t need for a season.

One by one, with a gentle letting go, they drop away burdens they no longer need to hold, should no longer cling to if they want to flourish in the year ahead.

Ah, to be as wise as these trees—beautiful and trusting—as they let go of what is no longer their own. As they prepare for winter, they are also preparing for the coming spring.

Dear God: Please help me be more like these flourishing trees in their season of change. Amen.

I fling up this prayer in hopes of laying down some worries and fears of the season ahead for me … so that after the winter, I will be flourishing, too.

Is there something you’re holding on to that you could let slip gently away? A concern or burden that is no longer yours to carry? Will you let these things drop away from you like so many fall leaves?

FallLeaves2014_FT

An especially flourishing tree that has covered my recently clean driveway with a golden leaf pile

Drop me a line in the comments below to let me know if you’re able to let go of any worries troubling you. And drop by next week, when I hope to share an exciting announcement about a different sort of flourishing tree.

 

Calm in the midst of chaos

My life feels pretty chaotic right now. As the days rapidly approach my cross-country move and my book release, I feel like my to-do list is growing instead of shrinking.

While my husband spent several days out in California juggling work with meeting work crews (yes, multiple) to prepare our new home for the move, I took advantage of some unbooked days to sneak away to the mountains. I headed for a place that is the calm, the peace, the still beauty that I need when life feels too crazy to manage.

TheLakeNov14_2FT

This is one of my favorite places on earth, and I’ll be seeing a lot less of it in the coming months. But for now, I’m grateful for the refuge it offers. This place makes me feel small, a great reminder that the problems I’m facing are small in the grander mechanism of the world’s workings.

BRPOverlook2014_FT

I had hoped to share more pictures with you, but my laptop and the wireless internet decided to have a knockdown, drag-out fight mid-post. One of the “charms” of escaping the chaos of my regular life is an unreliable internet connection, I suppose.

Where do you go when you need to find calm in the midst of the chaos?

Trying to control the darkness and the light

We set our clocks back Sunday (though some of you reading this may never change your clocks and others may change yours on different dates). This artificial change brings light earlier in the morning but also summons darkness earlier in the evening. Is this a human attempt to control the uncontrollable nature of time? Is it part hubris for humans to attempt to wrangle obedience from the sun and force it to rise and set on our command?

I used to love this weekend every year when I was younger. I relished the extra hour of sleep and waited all day to change my clocks. Each time I looked at the clock, I’d celebrate a small triumph over time: “Hah!” I would think, “I really have an extra hour,” when in fact I only had the same amount of time as always. I could pretend there was a 25-hour day in the fall and ignore the required 23-hour day in the spring to balance the truth that we all only get 24 hours in every day, no matter how much we try to cajole and shift and control time.

Maybe in youth, I walked in a different sort of light, didn’t need the sunlight as much as I do now, wasn’t as influenced by the shorter days and the lessening of the light. As I age, this day and the week that follows grow more difficult for me. It’s like a week of vertigo for my brain as I attempt to adjust to a new pattern of light and dark in life. The dog gets antsy in the afternoon, thinking I’ve forgotten her walk and dinnertime. My husband runs mostly in the dark—whether he runs before or after work—and all too soon, he’ll also leave for work in the dark and return in the dark. I’ve heard from several friends recently, bemoaning the coming dark in this way: “Only the Christmas lights make it better this time of year, but then …” They all seem to trail off at the same point, with an agonized look toward post-Christmas and winter’s dark. This is a hard change.

There’s a Bible verse that comes to mind especially during this week following the time change:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

— John 1:5 (NIV)

I especially love the NIV translation of this verse because it’s about light (and God) winning, light equaling strength, light defeating the darkness and by extension, good defeating evil.

I’ve been pondering this balance of light and dark more than usual lately as my move looms ever closer. Each goodbye is tinged with both light and dark, but I like to think that the joy of each friendship outweighs the dark sadness of saying a temporary farewell.

I also fret about the light in my new home. Will there be less light in the winter there? And if so, how will it affect me? But the simple truth is this: I am not in control of the darkness and the light. I have to trust that the light can and will overcome the dark.

I bought a golden mum earlier in the Fall, and this is one of my favorite photos of it:

FallLightandDark_2014FT

Light overcomes dark.

 

This mum positively shimmered in place. I would walk by a window and glimpse a golden halo through the glass, the mum defeating darkness and mimicking the sun’s own light.

I should print the photo and write John 1:5 on it. And maybe set it nearby as a reminder to hope even as the dark sets in. Something like this (feel free to print this out, if you like):

FallLightandDarkwithJohn_1_5_2014FT

 

Attempting to control light and dark
Will we forever try to control time and dark and light? This National Geographic article suggests that the answer is yes. It’s a great read if you’d like to learn more about the history of US efforts to fiddle with the sun. My favorite line: “‘As you can imagine, the Congressional Record on daylight saving constitutes the great comic novel of the 20th century.’”

Check out this Washington Post article about the politics of time. The article also provides a map of countries that practice the time switch. If the time change itself hasn’t already made you dizzy, this list of countries and their decisions about time zones and changes may leave you feeling a little off kilter.

And if you’re looking for a defense of the dark, this is a beautiful read. My favorite line: “Surrendering to the dark was my only hope of making peace with the light.” Because, after all, even the light can overwhelm us somedays.

So how about you? How are you adjusting? Does “falling back” affect you?

A love letter to my hometown, part 4

Dear Raleigh,

I didn’t realize as a child how fortunate I was to grow up so close to Pullen Park. Maybe I took it for granted that all children get to enjoy such a place, but as an adult, I know Pullen Park is one of your greatest treasures.

When I visited yesterday, with a friend and her three young boys, much had changed. But so much of what makes this park wonderful remains the same after all these years.

PullenPark_2014_entrygate_FT

A fancy gateway greets visitors to the park these days.

The humble walkway into the park with its little waterfall is long gone—replaced by a new, grander entry in a different area of the park. But some of the same rides and play spaces reassured me that you hadn’t lost the spirit of this place, only shined them up a bit. Continue reading

A love letter to my hometown, part 3

Dear Raleigh,

I took off from the airport Monday morning and was reminded of why your nickname is “the City of Oaks.” Green was everywhere. Trees are the finery in which you choose to clothe yourself.

Thank you for creating such a beautiful space for your citizens and guests to enjoy.

Trees line your streets:

RaleighTrees_1FT

A busy street made beautiful by trees blooming in spring

RaleighTrees2011_5FT

Trees provide shade along the parade route for the St. Patrick’s Day parade (which is another event I love you for hosting).

Trees give shelter and shade along your many running trails and in your beautiful parks:

RaleighTrees_2FT

At Umstead. I know, I know, it’s a state park, but it’s still attached to Raleigh. And it’s beautiful any time of year.

RaleighTrees_9FT

Some tree roots I pass by almost daily … thanks for creating so many trails and saving green spaces.

RaleighTrees_10

Fred Fletcher park, a lovely place to walk or sit and enjoy Raleigh’s natural beauty

Speaking of trees’ beauty, the art museum has fabulous grounds (and a running trail runs through it—the property, not the building).

RaleighTrees_3FT

Manmade art framing a beautiful tree

RaleighTrees_4FT

More art, beautiful fall trees

Trees live at the heart of my favorite place to visit in Raleigh: NC State’s JC Raulston Arboretum.

RaleighTrees_6FT RaleighTrees_7FT RaleighTrees_8FT

So thank you, Raleigh, for the trees. I hope you’ll keep fighting the good fight with the state to turn the Dorothea Dix property into a city park. Your efforts make me love you even more.

Best,
One of your native daughters

PS – My new city is trying to win my heart, too. When I called to set up my utilities, they said I qualified for their tree program and could get up to 12 free shade trees. One whole dozen. So, Raleigh, you may need to step up your game and see if Duke Energy or one of the other utility companies would provide such a beautiful offer to your residents.