Leaves in the Wind


A few years ago I did my first multi-day solo hike in the Jura mountains. It’s a well known route, of which I did a 3 night section. On the second day, after walking in silence for a while, I was becoming very introspective. I felt my weight shifting through my skeleton as I walked, how each footstep touches the ground and rolls from heel to toe. I felt how walking is a process of letting go, allowing oneself to fall forward for a moment before stopping, maintaing a forward tilt of the center of balance, and then re-centering over the forward swinging leg, what normally are relatively subconscious sensations…I listened to the birds, watched the clouds and the sun move through the sky. I gazed far into the horizon, across the lake to the Alps capped in snow, and down at my feet at the pebbles, mushrooms and blades of grass, ants, flies, and butterflies. I had absorbed myself in the present moment, and was taking things one step at a time.

I rounded a bend, and amongst some trees, I began to listen to the wind. My discursive mind considered many facts it knew about air pressure differences, temperatures circulating in the atmosphere, land masses and bodies of water’s influences, the special nature of winds in Lac Leman, said to resemble ocean winds in their diversity of directions. I considered the sound I was hearing. The howling of pressure passing hard surfaces, but this was not a very strong wind. The composition was especially of rustling, leaves in the trees.

I suddenly became aware of the countless number of leaves surrounding me, all moving in the air, in rhythm, giving the impression of how the wind swirled. Like a surround sound set of drum cymbals playing jazz 20 meters off the ground, I became absorbed in the rhythmic rustling. How did the leaves move about, the branches to which they hold swinging in the wind, brushing neighbouring leaves and branches.

I thought about the metaphor of the tree, whose deep roots are hidden from view, and whose geometric branching toward the sky produces a cycle of growth and dying as the seasons pass. Like people, with forgotten bodies rooted in material processes, and fascinated minds branching out into representational spaces, trees link the earth and sky, the substantial and the insubstantial. The tree creates it’s wood and the enormous majority of its biomass from extracting carbon from carbon dioxide in respiration through leaves.

The leaves provide a distributed powerhouse for the organism, photosynthesizing sugars by capturing energy from the sun in the form of light, and fixing carbon. They are at once, their own isolated system, and part of the larger tree. They may experience similar ‘lives’ to their neighbours, or completely unique events. As the season passes, the leaf cleaves it’s stem, and as a certain pressure difference in the air, variously heated by the sun’s rays, pulls the branches to and fro, and some of that pressure pushes just so on that one leaf and it departs the great tree.

In my quiet, introspective state of mind, absorbed in this realisation of the finality of the march of entropy, that this leaf will never again be on the tree…. Was all it took to bring tears to my eyes.

The tree is the world. All the sentient beings are attached to it. They do their best to transform what is given into what they have grown to produce, for the benefit of the world. They are moved by forces as incomprehensible to people as the wind is to the leaf, and eventually, are severed from their branch.

I thought about the life of the leaf. It’s selfless dedication to a greater whole, and it’s unremarkable departure in the grand scheme of things.

How many leaves were falling to the ground around me?

Should they be remembered for their contribution to the greater good?

How long do you honour the life of a fallen leaf?

This realisation, I would like to think, helped me to understand the nature of emptiness. That all things are impermanent, and interconnected in ways we can only dream of understanding. That even the seemingly most insignificant aspects play a role in maintaining the fabric of the whole. That while we may live with a prediction about the future and a vision of the past on our minds, that we should strive to be present with ourselves and others, to be able to appreciate the insignificant things, the most subtle things.

By MEpps

Offering acupuncture, massage, and herbal medicine at the L'Etoile, espace thérapeutique since 2004.