the magnificent maple

I met the most magnificent maple. She lives down at the marina, right at the water's edge. In the summer she watches boaters come and go. Styrofoam coolers and cranked-up stereos. Water skis, life jackets, and excited shouts. In the winter, she sees snow silence the mountains around a still, steel-blue lake. In the spring she bears witness to winter's promises having been kept yet again. Rebirth and renewal, bloom and blossom. But I met her in the fall. And in the fall she herself is the thing to see.

The maple I met understands the inevitability of change. She meets it head on, with patience and grace. The wind chills her limbs and the sun dries her sap, and she blushes in anticipation of her impending bareness. Her blushes are a fiery riot of red and orange; they'll take your breath away. She captivated me from the moment I saw her, and I returned every day to watch her transformation.

I stood underneath her branches, close to her trunk, and looked up. I heard whispers passing between her and the sky, and the sun winked at me as if he too knew their secrets. A beetle cleaved to a knot in her bark, unbothered by what she was going through. Nature's apathy, writ tiny. At my feet were the leaves she'd shivered off, all sizes, their pigment faded to various degrees. Some as wide as my palm, and wine dark. Some no bigger than silver dollars, and peach, with pale pink tips. I couldn't help myself; I gathered them up by the handful. Each seemed more perfect than the last, and I piled them on top of one another, carefully aligning their maraschino cherry stems.

I carried these pieces of her away with me. They were still pretty, still smooth and pliable with the life she'd given them - but they were fast becoming memories to her, and I knew she wouldn't mind my taking what she'd already lost. Besides, I wanted to try and make something beautiful with them. It's always worth trying, I think, to make something beautiful of the things we lose.