Five-thirty. Kim has gone to collect Claire and six of her friends from a soccer game to return to the house for a sleepover. The already dark day begins to darken more. After days of rain, a wind has come up, spattering drops against windows and the side of the house. I cross the lawn to the tree and look up. The last two days I have been up there taking pictures in the rain, of fallen leaves that have clung to branches, yellow and watery against luminously green moss. The foliage had thinned already, even then, from the dense mantle of summer to a mass of leaves that was lighter and airier, but still uniform.
Today it is different. The wind has had its way with the tree. Only a scattering of leaves remain. The lawn in front and the woods behind are thickly carpeted in orange, yellow, brown. I start up the ladder of branches and it is like walking into a new world. The tree is open to the landscape, to the sky. A wind blows through it unobstructed. What leaves remain are isolated from one another, one here and another there and a scattering more over there, out on the end of twigs, on separate branches. They have lost their collective existence. No more the tree’s foliage, no more its mantle of leaves, they are now individuals, the lingerers, the hangers-on, the holders-out.
I climb carefully; the tree is slick from days of rain, a slippery organic film coating the branches. Mosses are vibrant against the impending twilight. When I stand at the top a damp wind blows up the hillside, through the branches, across me. There is a mist on the hills cloaking the subdued colors of what foliage remains. But mostly I look at the sky, at how much of it there is through the now-empty branches. Or rather: before, I would see the sky between the branches. Now I see branches against the immense expanse of the sky. A small shift in perspective, but one which entirely changes the experience of being in up there.
The tree has been blown open. It is no longer a place to shelter, to be in secret. It is no longer a space or entity that one can be inside of, as when in summer, while clambering among the branches beneath its dense cloak of leaves, I am profoundly, intimately, inside the tree. I recall writing this some past season: that now, however close I get to the trunk, I am still always only in the sky. That is it exactly. And this is new to me, that I have done this long enough that one season now can be charged with the reverberations of another.
But with loss comes gain, in the tree as everywhere. Intimacy has been exchanged for expansiveness. The door to the sky has been thrown open. The tree has changed from enclosure to threshold. From being a contained and inward-looking space to one that is full of wind and rain and sky–and, on the next sunny day, will be full of light. Drenched with light. Being up there then will be like being held up to the sky by a giant hand.
I climb slowly down through branches that now are just drenched with water, and return to the house to finish making spaghetti.