One morning last fall, I sat in my deer stand and watched oak leaves fall. Some may wonder why I was watching leaves instead of watching for deer. The reason is I didn't see any deer, but I did see plenty of oak leaves. Watching them fall was a great way to pass the time.
As the rising sun touched the highest points of the trees, a few early leaves drifted down. The warming glow crept deeper into the treetops, and leaves began to drift down at an unbelievable pace. The falling leaves actually sounded like light rain in the still woods.
As I watched them float to the ground, the thought came to me that I might be witnessing the deaths of countless multi-colored leaves. I wondered if they felt any agony in falling, and if they tried to resist, to hang on, to last a little longer.
I preferred to believe that the moment of their falling is what sustains them during their lives on a tree. Falling is their crowning achievement. They were born to fall.
I couldn't help but notice that no two oak leaves fell the same way. Each descent was as individual and unique as a snowflake. As I watched, however, I was able to identify some general styles of falling.
Lots of leaves seemed to spin to the ground. Spinners remind me a lot of my 3-year-old son who stands in the front yard, twirling around at a dizzying pace. He then usually tumbles to the ground with a hearty giggle.
Roller coasters went into a quick dive, only to put on the brakes and come nearly to a stop before leaning into another dive. I recalled how my stomach sank to my knees the last time I rode a roller coaster.
The drag racers didn't show much form. They seemed to want to reach the ground as quickly as possible. Perhaps they had found their six months of being stuck to a tree unbearable and spent most of that time planning their escape. I have known people who were like that.
Gliders reminded me a lot of wise old grandparents. They sailed down at a comfortable pace, as if to say "It doesn't matter how you get there or how fast you go, you still wind up in the same place."
Some gliders drifted in small circles toward the ground as if descending a spiral staircase. I guessed they wanted to travel, but they didn't really want to go too far away.
I decided the free-stylers were the Generation X of the leaf world. These free-spirited souls would glide, roll, spin and bank before they hit the ground. It was as if they put everything they had into their fall. Perhaps they had choreographed their descents during their time on the tree.
Each leaf seemed to add its own touch to whatever style it chose. My favorite was one I called "Granny gets her kicks." She was a glider who caught some "good air" and added a loopety-loop about halfway down.
Often pairs or small groups of leaves floated gently down like old friends traveling together. As with the others, their journey ended on the forest floor. At least they would spend the rest of their existence among friends.
A few leaves even landed on me as I sat. I said "Hello!" and released them to finish their journey.
Before I knew it, two hours had passed. I smiled at how absorbed I'd been in the falling of leaves. I knew, however, that a large part of the reason I go to the woods is to see things I wouldn't otherwise notice and to reflect on things that normally would not merit a second thought.
On the way home, I even asked myself, "If I was a falling leaf, what would my style be?"
I grinned at the possibilities.
Editor - Tom Cwynar
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Artist - Mark Raithel
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