“Kaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaathy!!!!” my sister would yell across the 2 1/2 pine barrens acres we called a playground growing up. This bellow could easily take the tone of joy or anger. We often yelled across the yard to each other and, in the silence of the rural pinelands, I am sure the neighbors heard our calls too. When we would do this within ear shot of my dad he would find us and remind us that we had “two legs and one mouth which means you can walk twice as far as you can yell.” I am not ashamed to say I have used this exact same phrase with students and interns in the past. Seems logical to me.
Just the other day I took a gentle walk along my favorite rail trail and instead of having a goal of miles or a time to beat or number of steps to worry about, I ventured on this day with the specific intention of using my two legs and just looking.
There have been a lot of words lately, an overwhelming amount of opinions and facts, love words and hate words and one word that keeps popping up: transition. Of course this realization of transition of political leadership coincides with the transition of seasons from fall to winter. It occurred to me, in addition to having two legs, I have two eyes. This means, by my father’s logic, I can see twice as much as I can say. So I decided to quietly witness this transition of fall to winter, during this time of transition for the country and, if I am going to be honest here, during personal transition of my own. Remembering with every dormancy theres comes a rebirth, after every winter follows a joyous spring, that autumn leaves provide the nourishment for next year’s wonderment, and that winter snow sustains us all.
So what follows are some snapshots of my small wander through transition, acknowledging we all are transitioning all the time; sometimes in small ways, sometimes in ways we have never imagined. Remembering none of this is permanent and if we stop talking and start looking, seeing, we will find the beauty and potential in the change.
Common Teasel (Dipsacus sylvestris) exhibits its spiky architecture of dormancy. This biennial plant was brought here by Europeans for textile processing, the sharp spiky seed heads used to help brush out wool. It escaped cultivation and now is found along roadsides and in fallow fields across the region. In the summer you will see tiny purple flowers often covered with pollinators.
The intricate patterns of fall color emerging on a Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) leaf.
The silhouette of Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) bobs against a clear blue fall sky. These fuzzy maroon fruits provide late season food for resident songbirds. A few leaves remain, showing their bright red color, which provided a flag to winged wildlife passing overhead letting them know that fruit was ripe and ready for the eating.
A miniature Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana). Sporting hot pink stems, navy blue fruits and browning leaves late in the season, this native perennial can grow to 8 feet tall. The berries are fed upon by many types of birds, one of which seems to have deposited this seed between the pavement and the curb.
Clinging to autumn. Perching precariously at the top, three Sycamore leaves hang on to this young tree.
These Red Oak (Quercus rubra) leaves are battered after having fed caterpillars and other insects. They have done their duty providing food not only to 6-legged feeders, but to the tree itself, providing carbohydrates to maintain the tree’s vigor. Enabling it to thrive, to halt erosion, to feed wildlife, to provide shelter, to clean water before it hits the lake beyond. Finally these leaves fall to the ground in their final act of nourishment, breaking down into the soil, providing food for decomposers and continuing to provide nutrients to the tree.
The seed capsules of Burdock (Arctium minus)are said to be the inspiration for what we know as Velcro (or hook and loop closures). Notice the hooks on the end of the barbs, they stuck to the clothing of the inventor and so Velcro was born from nature’s design inspiration. The roots of this biennial are said to be edible, and pollinators swarm to this aster family relative in the summer. In order to carry on, this plant relies on the seeds sticking to deer coats and other mammals, including the warm flannel shirts we sport in autumn, to spread far and wide.
Often reaching heights of more than 100′, Sycamores abound on this rail trail that, in spots, meanders between creek and lake. Few of the large leaves still cling to what’s left of fall. Winter white bark glows against the sky.
Marsesence. Beech leaves hanging tight to the young beech tree. Especially common in younger trees, the leaves hang on through winter, bringing a touch of the memory of autumn to the white winter landscape.
And sometimes if we just wait and watch instead of immediately having something to say, or tweet, or post, we may notice the transition was actually filled with more beauty, more benefit, more lessons, more good than we anticipated.
Here’s trusting in your transitions, small and big, you are able to find beauty, potential and inspiration.