The Leaves are Falling

by Houkje

I planted a cover crop of buckwheat in my backyard garden this fall.

As I’m stomping around growing, tending, weeding, and picking my tomatoes and basil in the hot summer sun, the soil naturally breaks down. A cover crop helps revitalize it, giving it new life for next spring.

It took five days for my buckwheat seed to emerge from the earth. The morning that I walked out and saw the tiny seedlings had popped their heads out of the dirt I was nearly ecstatic. New growth makes my heart sing. It’s a hopeful sign, a reminder that life is constantly changing, shifting, expanding.

While my backyard buckwheat is thriving, the American elm tree outside of the front of my house is waning. It is one of the largest and oldest trees on my block.  If I stand next to it and hug it, my arms barely reach halfway around its girth.

Many mornings before I get out of bed, I have stared at the top of it, watching as branches sway in the wind, birds come and go, and leaves rustle. Its presence has been a constant comfort to me over nine seasons.

In the last few years, I’ve noticed that some of the limbs no longer have leaves on them and now every few weeks, another branch has fallen into the street. I can sense the tree giving up, as each year, fewer and fewer leaves sprout from its canopy. Its spirit is leaving.

I had our neighborhood arborist come and look at it for me a few months ago because it was beginning to drop large chunks of its bark.

“This old fellow is not going to improve.  But it also could persist in a state pretty much like this for several years.  It also could die next year.  Hard to predict just when these declining elms are going to give up the ghost,” Steve wrote to me in an  email with a  detailed report regarding the tree.

I really love this tree. It is solid, deeply rooted, and old.

But Steve’s words were so…. unsatisfying.

New growth is easy to celebrate. But my dying tree, it isn’t easy to talk about or accept, even though it is the same process that my buckwheat will go through this winter when it dies at the first frost. This elm tree has had a long life, maybe 80 years, according to Steve, who guessed that it was probably planted when my town was just emerging, in the 1920s.

Life itself is in constant movement, even when we cannot see that it is.

If this tree were dying in the forest, its wood would slowly disintegrate over time adding vital nutrients to the soil. New growth would eventually emerge in its place. The death of one thing providing the conditions for something new to emerge.

I’ve been having small moments of appreciation for the tree; its beauty, its gifts, the shade it provides, the home for small animals. It has been there for a very long time, but in its death and dying I am forced to remember that all things are impermanent.

Change begins with accepting what is.

As I walk out of my house daily, I give thanks to the tree and remember that rebirth begins with death.







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