the mother tree

In the month leading up the election, I was barely present for my family. I listened to endless cable news in the car, had the tv on in every room. I devoured articles about the election online, and doomscrolled through Facebook and Twitter in bed at night. I pretty much stopped cooking for my family, faking my way through meals with a combination of take out, old stuff harvested from the freezer, and leftovers. I stopped reading books. My mind on high alert would not tolerate the slower pace of fiction. On Election Day, and for the tense few days afterward, I barely took my eyes off the televised electoral college tabulation boards. I kept track of vote percentages on the backs of envelopes, checked vote margins just before sleep and immediately upon waking. There was a lot of cranky disagreement in my house that week; no one seemed happy. I was sure my husband and son were being difficult, but it’s possible I was just a bit on edge.

In those fraught weeks, the world changed outside my windows. The green leached out of the marsh grasses, the air cooled, and the sun began to set earlier. The day the media called the election was unusually warm, though, so I carried a chair outside onto the front stoop to sit in the sun. I brought my coffee, and the book review, but it mostly stayed in my lap. Our usually busy street was quiet, with almost no cars, and very few walkers. The world seemed hushed after so much noise, so much endless talking. I stared into the treetops, and let myself be still.

Soon I noticed a noise, the faintest tap, a sound I couldn’t place. Then I heard it again. Were raindrops hitting the leaves of the trees? It couldn’t be... it was sunny. I listened again. Another tiny tap. Then nothing. More nothing. I had a sip of coffee, then I heard it again, only more muffled this time, less crisp. Could it have rained last night, and this was water, dripping from one leaf to another? I peered hard into the trees, whose branches grow up and over the road, forming a canopy.

And then, I saw it. A single oak leaf floated down, and landed with a tiny tap. One, then another— individual leaves were separating from the mother tree at the end of a long season, floating down and landing on the road. Nature was unspooling herself, right in front of my eyes. This felt like a holy moment, this precise second of letting go, and I felt exalted to be here to see it—utterly alone, yet with them. Some frayed and coiled part of me relaxed, and a joy I hadn’t felt in so long, flowed.