Those of us, living in the Northeast United States, are especially fond of Autumn, when the leaves on the trees turn a resplendent array of colors: the brightest yellows, reds, oranges or sometimes, yes, even the lowliest of browns. The crunch of the fallen leaves under foot is a harbinger of the deep rest that is to come; the temperature drops and we bundle up. It just feels right. It’s why it’s called Fall, right?
Leading forest therapy walks in the forest at this time of year holds some special invitations: all about letting go, and yet, there is more to it than that; more to it than a leaf changing color and falling off a tree. In fact, it’s quite the other way around. It is the tree that chooses, and it is the tree that pushes the leaves off its branches.
According to our botanists, when the days get colder and shorter, a hormone is triggered in the trees. Once the hormone is released, the trees begin to deposit cells where the leaf and the tree connect. These cells are called abscission cells; the word literally meaning scissors. As these cells build up, the leaf and the tree begin to separate until, finally, the leaf is severed from its connection to the tree and it falls. The tree literally pushes the leaf away. Once it’s done that, the tree heals itself producing another, specialized layer of cells.
Not all leaves are pushed away and not all trees do this. Our evergreens keep their needle-like leaves year-round. Only Deciduous trees release their leaves in order to survive the winter and prepare for new growth in the Spring. Imagine the dead-weight of all those leaves if they didn’t fall. How would a tree create a new growth without releasing the past?
And the big question is … how might this inform our Human lives?
We talk about letting go; releasing what doesn’t serve us. So many of our global stories no longer serve us and yet, we hold on. Same holds true for personal stories: people, places, our clutter, money and our jobs. How will we invite new growth if our arms are full of old stories; our hearts full of grief and our minds so cluttered that we can no longer bear the silence in which discovery emerges? What would it take to create that release; that slow and steady cutting off of the thing(s) no longer needed; in fact, harmful to us if we allow them to remain?
An invitation to explore this in concert with a tree should come as no surprise. Who else to teach us how to release, to push off the unwanted? At the same time, let’s not forget those vivid colors; the red, gold, and orange colors of release. To be released with such love; not quietly, no, with splendor. What a gift!
How might you release an old story with love, with splendor?
Go into the forest, or park, or preserve. Find a tree with color surrounding it. I invite you to pick up some leaves: one, or as many as you can hold, and raise your arms up high, as if you were a tree, it’s branches full of the leaves that once gave you life. Name them, your stories, if you choose. Otherwise, simple stand with your leaves until your arms get tired; until you get tired of standing with these leaves from a season past. Then one by one, or all at once, imagine building a cellular wall between you and the leaves, notice their colors. They do not go quietly, do they? Once you’ve made the separation between you and your leaves, release them; push them off. Wait. Don’t go yet. What does it feel like to release them? Hands, free of old stories. Wiggle those fingers; maybe even wave your arms. Yes!
The tree also teaches us that there’s a resting period between this act of love, the freedom of release and new growth. A deep resting time to trust that we’re in the mystery of something extraordinary; something primordial. So, I invite you to rest, deeply. Don’t even consider Spring. The tree doesn’t and yet, it buds and blooms, and grows new leaves every Spring without fail. It trusts that’s how it works.
Time to trust how you work; how the world works in interbeing with you. Sweet dreams. See you in Spring.
Linda Lombardo, certified Forest Therapy Guide