Being John Maple Leaf

The leaves are changing.

I enjoy observing the cherry trees, the liquid ambers and so on. Each with its own tints and scents. Merry piles of leaves that are someone else’s to deal with. Some of the trees are bare already, dark jagged arms pointing into the cold grey sky, making an early start on winter, while others in sheltered spots are defiant patches of green among the ocean of red and orange.

But the maple is depressing.

I find it so year-round. In spring, its little green buds are no joy in themselves. We only value them for the glowing embers they will later become. The same is so for the lush summer leaves. We are dissatisfied with these innocent green hues because that is not their purpose.

Finally, when the temperature cools, the maple puts on the show for which it was planted. Everyone marvels for its are the finest autumn leaves of all. It has been cultivated for centuries purely for these colours that we may enjoy for a month or so.

And then in winter it becomes a bare, frail bundles of sticks, almost a shrub. Most of us walk by without even realizing what it is, and if we notice it at all, we merely make note of the spot and remember to return there in nine months or so.

It’s sad that the maple is restricted to such a narrow purpose. The attention it gets in late November only emphasizes how much it is ignored and unappreciated the rest of the year.

We enjoy liquid ambers all year round – their summer shade, their strangely grim winter aspect as they stand sentry over the hibernating world. Even cherry trees are evergreen in our hearts. Their special moment is the spring blooming but their fresh green buds and rich summer foliage also play their part.

Only the maple is ignored for eleven months of the year.

I come from the land of eucalypts and wattle so I am unaccustomed to the brutality of attitudes towards these foreign, deciduous trees. Why can’t the maple simply ‘be’ like any other tree? It is always in waiting, like a convented girl with a long-planned wedding. Suddenly she has her moment of glory, decked in finery worn for only a day, and then is immediately forgotten by everyone once the cake and champagne buzz wears off; a frumpy old housewife who gave you three kids and the best years of her life, goddammit.

Walking home troubled by these thoughts, I pass by a maple in a minor park. There’s something about it – a perfect mix of oranges and reds with just a tinge of green to act as a foil; the clear sky an ideal backdrop to frame the whole.

I’ve sometimes thought that every woman has a single, perfect day when she looks her absolute best, through some combination of feelings, hormones, circumstances, style and other things magical and secret. Every so often we see a woman on such a day. She herself seems to know it is her day. She glows. You’d think she might be saddened by the swiftness of the day and the certainty that it will never come again, but this is never so. Her naivety and being in the moment are part of the effect.

So it was with that maple tree. It was no doubt beautiful the day before and would be again the day after, but on that particular day it reached some golden ratio of colours that could not be improved. It was the sole, shining day for which it had been ignored all year.

I thought, let the lady have her day. She is happy. Let her have this. Let my pointless ruminations be swept aside by the sparkling cascade, just for one moment.

If you see a maple in its anorexic winter nakedness, appreciate it for what it is in that moment, not for what it will be in the future. Learn to love the green summer leaves in their distinctive shape without feeling that it is odd or disappointing for them to be that colour. Let the little girl have her scabbed knee and snotty nose, the old woman her wrinkles and too much wine. It is part of the whole.

And tell Canadians to change their flag because that is a large part of the problem.

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3 comments

  1. overgrownhobbit · December 8

    Japanese maples get to be loved year round for their grace and the delicacy of their leaves. I have two: a slim baby and an ancient giant.

    It takes a bark load of pruning and care to maintain them though. Heh.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kentucky Gent · December 8

    A surprising twist at the end! I like it.

    Like

  3. collegereactionary · December 10

    I think we can all agree that the canadians should change their flag.

    Like

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