Two weeks ago one of the young sawtooth oaks in the backyard was still clinging to its winter leaves — tight little wrapping paper tubes of brittle brown. The bigger leaves were long gone; these were the recalcitrant ones, the obstreperous children determined to have their own way.
The air was warm that morning. The sun was bright. The verbena I'd planted last summer at the corner of the deck was already blooming purple and spilling over the concrete edgers I'd put in place to keep it contained. What was the oak tree still doing holding on to winter?
I started wondering how, exactly, the tree's new buds might force the leaves to fall, how the sap might begin pumping in a rhythm akin to a heartbeat, each pump jarring the leaf a little looser until eventually, like the criminal hanging by his fingertips from the 30-story ledge, there was nothing to do but drop. I could almost see the sticky life-juice pushing through the thin bark, could almost hear it screeching with false bravado, "Hey, you! Yeh, you, yesterday's news, outta here!"
A couple of days later I pulled into the driveway (in daylight, thanks to the time change) and saw the oak tree covered, ballooned in Coke-bottle green buds and matching leaves. The armature of branches was all but completely hidden by the froth. Not a single brown cylinder remained. Not even on the ground.
I've grown accustomed to the natural world's prestidigitation. It cannot be watched closely enough to observe the change as it happens. It performs its magic in secret, under cover of darkness or solitude. Overnight the grass needs cutting. In the afternoon you water a rosebud; in the morning it is in full flower; by evening it is fading.
But this was different. Not the ordinary wizardry of spring. That many leaves do not drop and disappear that quickly.
Still studying the suddenly voluptuous tree over my shoulder, I started toward the back steps and noticed the pine cone seeds. They fanned out over the carport floor like fairy dust, salmon pink translucent wings weighted down by seeds the color of doe eyes. They'd been lifted from their trees of origin, carried across the landscape between earth and sky and deposited at my doorstep by invisible gusts of warm spring wind.
And, of course, that is how the oak tree got naked so quickly, too. The wind. Warm spring wind.
The new buds chafed for the dead leaves to fall of their own accord and the dead leaves held to the branch with righteous anger. The new buds, full of new life, impatient to see sunlight, feel raindrops, convert carbon dioxide into oxygen trembled with anticipation while the dead leaves trembled with fear. Neither could do anything but wait.
Wait for the wind. Wait for the outside force. Wait for the shaking that would strip to naked the strong skeleton and redress it in newer, better attire.
We all like to think that we are the managers of our lives, that we make the choices and create the time lines, that the decisions of when or if to hang on or let go are ours and ours alone. To take that approach occasionally may be appropriate, but to live one's entire life that way is to live in denial.
The truth is that we are all trees. We sprout leaves. We produce fruit. We offer shade. In season. But seasons change. And so we must stand in the wind, roots holding us up straight and tall, and watch as it blows and gusts and tears away all that is dead in order that we may see all that is alive.