The parking lot carried rivers of sand over pavement, weaving in and out of yellow parking lines and forgotten shovels. I held my hand over my eyes to keep the sand from finding them. And he yelled something over the arch of the blustery wind, placing each word on its tail. And his two brothers followed him, hooking their small fingers inside his belt loop to guide them.
Their feet touched the concrete in rhythmic bends, the heaving breath of one, sandy boyhood search, the arm pumping race to corner the moon. And they pushed their way against the wind's resistance, finding small openings in the deep breath intervals between gusts. And they made a run for it, escaping the boundaries and invisible gates of childhood.
There was a leap. The moment between reverence and discovery, where small hands meet the earth, the grounded soil of lost afternoons. And her leaves twisted in the light, the nostalgic twinkle found only in the eyes of someone who loves without reason.
She had been waiting for them, waiting for their open hands pressed against her trunk, their fingers cupped around each branch. The cold winter's grip tickling her leaves to descend. And their open hands waiting to catch her golden light foliage.
And her roots gave way to the birth of the climb, the veins on the floor, the fall. And each toe, notched between spiral root, told a story. Each curve and twist, a whisper of where to hold on and where to let go. And the deep knee balance between limb kept them up, holding them high enough to see the faraway lines of where they had been.
These legs that climb over root and foot, this wind that strips and exposes what's left. The carriage divine offering each leaf a pulse. And there was the hush and break of hands wide open, eyes softened at the brow, cheeks warmed by end of the day sunlight.
And I wondered what this tree might whisper to us if her knots could speak.
How many hands have rubbed away the sheen on her bark, how many days and hours she stood alone, untouched, waiting for the hands of children to find her again. How many falls, how many broken twigs of failure these branches have cradled, never once offended.
The climb over tangled history, burnt tongues, silencing fingers held close to the lips.
And the words still mute, broken before I could speak them. It's okay to fall.
The fallen, the gentle journey to the ground, is bigger than us. To hold it in our hands, the connecting stitch of steps misplaced, of color not yet changed, hues hushed in the dimming light, is to cradle the spring of what is yet to be born.
And he asked if he could count them.
His small voice leaning.
"I wonder how many there are."
"I wonder how many have fallen."
The life that pulsed from their veins. The summer days, the laughter caught between branches, the warmth of the sun seen through transparent skin. The late evening firefly gathered on point's end, the caterpillar's meal of renewal. And the day's that held the quiet song of soft breeze sonnets, leaves marching hand in hand, spinning on connected vine, the confirmation of life.
Maybe it's like counting the stars, knowing that somehow they will all add up to light the darkest sky.
This autumnal fall, the piles of wrong turns, the mistakes laid to rest.
And the hand still open to catch it all. The chill. The shake. The torn, beaten wind of broken worry and regret.
This mercy feels whole again. These hands that collect the veins once filled with coursing blood, connect my closed eyes to my heart.
This tree trunk faith, the holy roots of love, hope for the open hand to find them.
"Where do they go?"
"All of these fallen leaves."
Back to the ground. To make the roots strong.
Stretch out your branches and let them fall.
And maybe it was the way he moved, but I could see his limbs let go. I could see his tree heart beating. I could see the wind grab at his leaves and playfully tug at the places he left tears to grow wild. I could feel the fall coming and my skin, this thin covering over bent twigs and cracked limbs, felt warm again.
It was a new path and my heart opened new doors and I could feel the shy, hesitant girl of duty, creep out from inside the deep holes of slumber. And he took her hand too.
The sun fell behind the gray storm shelf, taking it's place beside forgotten notes and loose buttons and I felt it's final brush of warmth before it descended. The salmon jumped over creek's log and I could feel the small girl's hand inside me, reach from behind my eyes. And discovery soothed and opened the fists still clenched in powerlessness.
We are caught with these hands open wide, in mercy's deep palm, fingers curled around insecurity and failings, nails brittle with neglect. And the beauty in the creases, the age and shedding skin, the rusted corners, the pearl inside.
"Can we stay here forever?"
"Forever and ever."
The light was almost gone. The shadows led over rock and root. The blue turned to gray. The red had fallen. And the words still there, on the tips of our tongues, the hyphenated pause between forgiveness and trust.
The last open hand reaching for something we once knew. I will wait for the mercy to come, to fall gently from her limbs. And this open hand still keeps the day from night, the life lived in shadows.
And I am left with the outline, the memory of hearts fallen, the texture and lines, the veins that once gave us life, now distant and hard to see. This art remains, the pattern, the map over rivers and streams, the damns we tried to block, the rushing water leaks, the holes we filled with mud and stone.
All of these wishes and wants and far away dreams, waiting to be let go, dropped from high places. And sometimes the letting go moves fast, gets swept up by the deep current of wind and sand and spin, and other times, it is the gentle fall, the fingers released, the slow motion hang under a forest's soft eyes.