Here at Emerald Dawn; the name I chose for my own little valley outside of Nashville almost 30 years ago, the leaves have almost all drifted to the ground. You can finally see the old horse barn we have never used in the little “holler,” as they refer to it in Tennessee, up the hill towards the old farm pond filled with trees. The former owner never checked to see if there was a cave below the pond water might drain into… no matter what he did. Hey, a stagnant farm pond is not what I consider a great idea anyway, so: more trees, more leaves… all the better for me.
Personally I’m not sure I could tell an elm from an ash, but I love trees for the artists they are. Together; each in their own unique way, they paint a living, moving canvas no artist has ever quite been able to match.
A few leaves still dangle from the trees at Emerald Dawn: desperately trying to shine just a little more: like my father, my mother, hoped for just before they passed away. As we all know the changing colors are the last beautiful gasps of what was once new, young and green. Sometimes I like to imagine them crying as they fall: knowing tis the end… for now.
I wish the end of life were that astonishingly colorful for us. Soupy Sales, who died recently, fell apart slowly, as most of us seem to do, eventually. The end wasn’t pretty for my mother or father. Personally, I hope to find myself under a bank safe dropped from a 15th story window and I don’t hear it coming.
There’s something to be said for sudden and quick. It’s rare that long lived souls get the respect and the myth built around them that the JFKs, the Martin Luther Kings and the Jesus Christs do. One wonders if Christ would have ever become the force for both good and evil that he did if he had lived into his 50s. Would he have been yet another in a long list of forgotten religious leaders? Would his sermons have included blessings to help backs bend better once you reach the age when “everything is down there?” Would plastic surgeons sue because he eliminated wrinkles by mere touch?
“Blessed are the… are the… what was I about to say?”
In the South a tree changes here, another changes over there, so the effect is less impressive and more than a tad ignored. In the Adirondacks, where I partially grew up and will eventually retire, my retirement home looks over leaves that don’t meander their way towards the ground one tree at a time. When I lived on Twitchell Lake, eight miles down the trail, the hill across Sawdust Bay would one day be ablaze, the next day have that haunted naked gray mixed with pines that define the end of the season, as Adirondack winter approaches with the promise of a lot of white.
I will be going there soon, and I know; by now, the leaves are all down, and often the change is quick; stark in a way that can take the breath away. The still, gray, hills: absent green, or orange, or yellow, or red, have their own beauty.
I miss it all when I have to be away: every season.
There’s something to be said for dramatic changes of the seasons, and something about where we grew up that seems to call us back. I remember when I first moved here locals; there were few northerners down here in those days, raved about the beautiful misty mornings and hazy days in Tennessee.
Thankfully we’ve had less of them this year, because I find nothing beautiful in bland days. But I must admit my earliest years near New York City spoiled me on such “pleasures.” Those years were mostly spent loathing the Jersey pollution that made breathing go to gag, and the very river our house over looked turned colors no human would want to see. There’s something about the gross green of Southern waters that never see enough cold weather to kill algae that reminds me of that certain southern portion of the Hudson River in the mid-60s.
Like the Cumberland near my house during the 50s… and occasionally these days, back then the Hudson pretty had much become an open, lifeless sewer before it reached that cold, concrete and steel vestige of “so what?” that defines New York City. A perfect metaphor for sidewalks in what some simply refer to as “the City;” as if there were no others. You don’t really exist as you go with the flow down those sidewalks. You’re more like one infinitesimal small speck, or an ant on auto pilot: serving one of the biggest nests of mostly drones in the world. My father, hating the fact that during the Depression he had to leave his beloved Dacks’, filled us with stories about the wonders of living where you could go many, many miles away from any road, any house or any artificial source of light… just listen to the loons or the crack of the trees as moisture froze: 40 below.
So I was predisposed to love Alaska-like wilderness and feel at best indifferent when faced with the hazy, the unclear, the humidity or pollution driven mist. And predisposed to feel disgust later when finding out that a few in the South thought the woods were created by God so rednecks could dump trash. This is no anti-South screed, however. If you ever took Route 9W north from the New York City Burbs through the hills back then you found northern rednecks were just like their southern cousins.
Where else do you put old couches, tires or abandon puppies? Well, if they asked me I might tell them, but I’ll be polite.
I was predisposed to love woods where, instead of a lounge chair straddling rocks, there was moss making the woods seem like a place where leprechauns played. This all painted with the stark clash of seasons, leaves in all their various colors, and skies blue to the horizon. Nights so dark a single lit window is like a bright, reflective, diamond shining into the night, two lit windows are a crowd.
So you would think I would have adored the political dynamic when I first came of age almost half a century ago. And I did. As a youth I debated and worked locally and nationally for a political party. I used to enjoy dangling a pencil from my mouth as I took debate notes and then use it to place those notes into the debate: brief, point made, staccato… Placing each quick debating point like a conductor inspires his orchestra to make concert halls ring with clear, concise, brief, notes.
And you would think I’d love the past 20 years. After all, we live in stark times: we have since the 90s. Last time I lived in times this poignant was the 60s when the drama and the noise were equally deafening,
But while I still love leaves when they go extreme, the older I get the more I find the clash of colors in politics, society and religion, bothersome. You would think one extreme would highlight another: showing the beauty of it all, but they don’t. The human equation seems to ruin it all.
Oh, it could be beautiful, but unlike the leaves agenda seems to have become everything. You’d never see an orange leaf walk into the Shrine of Yellow and shoot holes through faithful congregants, or green walk into the museum of Multi-Cultural-Colors and kill because they’d rather do that than tolerate change. A yellow leaf never calls a red one a “Communist,” or even “Socialist.” The leaves on the ground don’t hear the ones in the trees call them brown-shirts, or fascists. When brown express themselves with a trail hiker’s gentle crunch, the pines up above don’t keep interrupting with, “I object, I object, I object,” because only they wish to color the day. As much as I love pines, I’d probably cut them all down if they did.
Instead, I can look out over an Adirondack mountain late September to early October and revel in just how splendid different colors and types of leaves can be: together…. especially as they clash with pines. They seem proud of the presentation.
Are we less intelligent than chlorophyll starved vegetation?
We are social creatures who seem driven to demand all conform to an ever shifting status quo, even in the way we think. It’s as if the leaves are all screaming at each other. If a leaf could think, if it could imagine, after watching our “colors” interact, would it be thankful at least leaves can’t hear? As I listen and read all we write, yell, mutter and scream at each other, somehow I think so. There are days I think our ears are far more useless than leaves dangling from trees about to fall; especially when it comes to the most important duty they have: listening.
But then I remember the music: Adirondack breezes blowing through the leaves, or the crack of a tree in mid-freeze. I think of the time when summer approaches; weaving it’s way through wonderful sounds of water flowing during Spring melt, and the return of those beautiful bipolar voice: cries mixed with laughter… an Adirondack loon.
All that, somehow… makes life worth living with the rest.
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
All Rights Reserved