Losing our leaves

tree

Autumn got sidetracked on its way to southwest Ohio. In the last few weeks, we’ve topped 80 degrees regularly and enjoyed delicious summer breezes coming through open windows from the moment we awaken.

Until the last few days, the trees have held stubbornly to their greenness, with only an occasional brushstroke of color dabbed about. Few leaves have taken leave from their limbs, although that will soon change.

It’s a gorgeous time of year in the Midwest, one of my favorites. And I feel a bit sad over what’s coming next.

Soon, the tree limbs will be bare, left naked in the winter winds. The cracks in the bark will show like scars on skin. The gravity-defying nests of squirrels and birds will be totally exposed to the elements.

Seeing a stripped-down tree gives me a chill.

Dark, sacred nights

In the summertime, there are few things more glorious than standing beneath a big tree on a warm night and listening to the soothing, rustling sound as the southern wind blows through it. Fireflies rise from the ground and blink their way toward the treetops like flashing holiday lights.

In those moments, life is so warm and so magical and so good. As Louis Armstrong called it, dark sacred nights.

Then along comes autumn. First, a gush of luminescent color. Then, the wind starts tugging and pulling, and all of the beautiful pieces get pulled off.

We all know that feeling, right?

A relationship ends, and a part of you seems to fly away with it. A medical test comes back positive, and all of the color drains out of your life. A parent falls and breaks a hip and needs to move into a nursing home, and you feel cold and exposed. A loved one dies. A child struggles. Another act of brutality jolts the world and tears at your heart.

Or maybe it’s just the normality of living that gets to you a bit. You see another wrinkle, get another ache, lose a little more hair, feel a little more forgetful as you look for the car keys you’re holding in your hand.

What’s happening?

There are times when you feel like you’re losing yourself, bit by bit. Life is tugging at you and disassembling you. You feel vulnerable. Naked. Exposed. Shaken right down to your roots.

You start to wonder who you are.

Losing yourself, piece by piece

You try to hold onto those parts of your life that are getting plucked away, but it does no good. The wind won’t relent. Another piece flies away, floats to the ground, turns brown and gets trampled.

Instead of rustling in the breeze, all you can do creak.

In those moments, people will try to be helpful by telling you that things will get better – spring and summer will return soon enough – but that doesn’t help. You know it’s true, but it’s not what you need.

What you need is an equally dissembled person to keep you company in the wind. To just stand with you for a while, until everything subsides and your twiggy limbs calm down.

Then the resurrection can begin.

And after a while, you start to notice something in your stripped-down state. You see the squirrels and birds still living in the nests that you support, keeping life going within you. They climb and flap and move about as if nothing’s changed.

Instinct tell them it will soon be time to start the circle of life over again.

In that moment, you also remember that the next generation of fireflies is right there with you, too, deposited safely in the shelter of the crevices in your bark and your roots. You’re serving as a womb for their blinky wonder.

The resurrection begins

Eventually, you take a close look at yourself and notice little bumps protruding from the spots where those leaves once attached. New buds are growing imperceptibly but steadily. And, truthfully, you recognize that you’re bigger and stronger entering this next cycle of rebirth.

For now, the only thing to do is open your arms wide and embrace the cold. Look for those signs of unabated life all around you and within you. Think of the fireflies’ blinks and the crickets’ melodies about to return.

Be patient. Embrace the nakedness and get ready to blossom yet again, more beautiful than ever. It won’t be long now.

In fact, if you listen closely, you can practically hear the crickets warming up.

Just blink

Firefly2

Fewer fireflies are taking flight these days. In early June, hundreds would rise slowly from the ground at dusk in my neighborhood and start blinking. Now, there’s not so many of them. Their days among us are starting to run out. It makes me sad.

Fireflies are one of my favorite things in life. Have been for as long as I can remember.

Everyone has their stories of chasing them, clasping them loosely in their hand, then depositing them in a jar to watch them do their magic up-close. I remember summers at a cottage near Youngstown, Ohio where the darkness was so deep and rich and the flash of those bugs so magnificent. They’d rise into the trees and turn them into a Christmas display with their nonstop blinking. We’d temporarily capture them, marvel at them, and then let them go.

Don’t believe in magic? Spend a little time watching fireflies do their thing.

What’s always amazed me was how they produce such beautiful light from their little bug bodies. When I got older and learned the science behind the blinking bugs, they became even more magical.

It was cool to learn about their incredibly complicated lighting-up process, called bioluminescence. How the bugs’ little bodies combine oxygen with calcium, adenosine triphosphate (yes, I’m cutting and pasting now!) and a chemical called luciferin to produce an enzyme that’s luminescent. And they do this without producing any heat whatsoever.

Don’t you wish you could do that?

So, that’s how they blink. But why do they blink? To communicate information, apparently, including their intentions to make baby fireflies. Their blinking patterns attract each other. So yes, the blinking you see is fireflies making sure we will have more fireflies next year. And the next year and the next. The blinking will never end.

Pretty miraculous stuff, all in all. I think fireflies are among the creator’s best work.

Last week, it was especially comforting and encouraging to watch the magical bugs take flight. All of the shootings and bombings and hatred in our world made it feel like a very dark place. And I was reminded that it’s only when the world starts to become really dark that the fireflies recognize that it’s time to come out of hiding and light it up.

A good lesson for you and me, no?

There are a lot of bugs that don’t light up. They do nothing to push back the darkness. And then there are others that transform it by doing what comes naturally to them.

Same with people, too.

We don’t need a search light to counterbalance darkness. No powerful flashlight, no enormous bonfire. Most of us have all that we need right inside of us. We have to recognize it and then have the courage to use it — to blink our blink – and put a little light into our darkening world.

And that, too, is pretty magical.

Just blink.